Words Matter: Hens, cocks, etc.

8 Apr

*briefly wonders how much spam and how many misdirected clicks will result from that second-to-last word*

Today’s post over at Sleep Talkin’ Man (which is hilarious, by the way, and you should subscribe or add it to your RSS feed or whatever you do to track these things) highlights one of my enduring stances: the words we choose to use matter (I’ve been meaning to write more on this…maybe someday). I don’t care if it is “only” a text message or tweet or message board posting. Use a word incorrectly, spell it wrong, muck up your grammar, and don’t be surprised when you’re misunderstood. But I digress.

STM also reminded me of a story from my high school days. So I thought I’d break my chain of non-blogging days (#postaweek, ha!! …can I blame it on preparing to move?) by sharing it.

During my senior year, I took what was, I believe, the only psychology course (surprise, surprise) on offer in the entire school. One day, the teacher read us brain teasers, and we tried to answer them, discussing the logic involved, challenging our assumptions in thinking, etc. One of the teasers was:

“If Mr. Brown’s peacock lays an egg in Mr. Green’s yard, to whom does the egg belong?”

(I’ll put a break here in case you want to consider that for a second.)

A vote of the class was taken. Some voted for Mr. Brown, some voted for Mr. Green. Both sides were wrong.

So someone asked, “The peacock?”

The teacher shook her head with a wicked grin and told us the answer: “Peacocks don’t lay eggs.”

No one accepted that answer, and what followed was a boisterous “debate” (if you can call it that) with exclamations such as “What?!” and “But peacocks are birds, right? All birds lay eggs, right?!” (And yes, that question really was delivered with a tone of “Everything I know is wrong!!”)

Meanwhile, I sat quietly in my seat, mental gears churning. Inspiration struck, thanks to previous teachers who had taught me how to deconstruct words, but I wasn’t certain and didn’t want to speak up if I was wrong. As I happened to have been assigned the seat next to the teacher’s desk, it was a simple matter to turn in my chair and grab the dictionary off the shelf behind me.

*pages flip* Aha!

Rather than try to shout over my classmates’ clamor, I silently raised my hand and waited to be acknowledged by the teacher, who by this time looked wildly amused at what the simple brain teaser had caused. When she indicated my turn to speak, I read out the entry I’d found. Something like:

“Peacock: the male of the peafowl species. The female is the peahen.”

It was astounding to watch realization wash over the class as they recognized their simple logical error. We’re so used to thinking of the turquoise birds with the gorgeous fans for tails, it doesn’t occur to us that their name isn’t the proper name for the entire species. And in common speech, much like how all tissues are known as Kleenexes or how “mankind” is used instead of “humankind”, it has become the name for the species.

So with that assumption challenged, let’s revisit the question:

“If Mr. Brown’s peahen lays an egg in Mr. Green’s yard, to whom does the egg belong?”

Mm, think I’ll leave that one for the lawyers to suss out.

(As an aside, why are [US] bachelor and bachelorette parties called “stag nights” and “hen nights” in the UK instead of “stag” and “doe” or “cock” and “hen”? …Given what the men traditionally go out and do, “cock” would certainly be more appropriate.)

3 Responses to “Words Matter: Hens, cocks, etc.”

  1. Rev. Dr. David Q. Hall 8 April 2011 at 17:12 #

    As you would expect, I’m sure, the Rev. Dr. knew the answer immediately. Together, by the way, the peacock and the peahen are “peafowl.”

    The only way a peacock could have laid the egg in Mr. Green’s yard would have been if his routine/act was not at all funny….but then that might have resulted in many eggs, a variety of fruits and vegetables, landing in said yard. All of which, I would submit, would belong to Mr. Green by legal claim on property resting on his land….unless, of course, the peacock had not only a renter’s/leaser’s claim….by the specific terms of lease….but immediate and legal possession of said groceries….in which case, the excruciating requirements of his wanting to lay an egg in the first place could be bypassed entirely….he would have not only “his” egg, but perhaps many more….however scrambled and mixed with aforementioned produce….omelet anyone?

    • ButMadNNW 8 April 2011 at 18:21 #

      Hi, Dad. Thanks for (finally!) commenting on my blog. ;-)

      And yes, I covered the “peafowl” issue in my entry. Got my smarts from you, y’know.

  2. Rev. Dr. David Q. Hall 8 April 2011 at 17:13 #

    Forgot to click subscribe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: