Thursday, December 24, 2015

Freaky Thursday: geoduck

Geoduck sounds like the animated, waterfowl hero of a National Geographic children's show about environmentalism, or geology, or geography, or something.

BOY: Oh no! Those endangered condor babies are flying right toward those spinning wind turbines.
GIRL: We'd better call Geoduck! He'll know what to do! 
BOY AND GIRL TOGETHER: Geoduck, help! 
GEODUCK: You're in luck! It's Geoduck!

Geoduck looks like it's made up of word parts we already know pretty well: geo- — a combining form meaning earth, ground, or soil — and everyone's quacky friend, duck.

And that possible etymology even makes a little sense once you learn that a geoduck is a large, edible clam from the American northwest that lives its entire life underground. (Unless it's dug up, boiled, sliced thin, and served with wasabi.) It's an animal — and a duck is an animal — that lives underground — hence the geo-.

But that etymology is completely wrong. The word doesn't even come from Greek or Latin.

Geoduck comes from Lushootseed, a dialect of the Salish language of Native American tribes in the Washington state area, and there are a couple ideas about what the word really means.

The idea that it comes from a phrase that means "dig deep" is the more plausible one because geoducks grow down deep into the soil and take some exertion to dig up.

Another idea is that the name comes in part from a word that means "genitals." This makes some sense, too because a geoduck looks nothing like a duck. It looks like a large penis growing from a giant pistachio shell. (See picture below.) But etymologies are just never that perfect, are they?

But it gets weirder. Geoduck isn't pronounced the way it looks. In Favre-like fashion, it's pronounced "gooey-duck," as if the first two vowels were transposed.

Why? It just is. Somehow.

Geoduck — both the word and the animal — is just one of those weird things that we all live with. And maybe eat.

Image from Living On Earth.