Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What Happened to the Dodo?

The Dodo & Given (1759) by G.Edwards

DODO

Noun. Plural dodos or dodoes. Early 17th century.
[Portuguese doudo simpleton, fool.]

1 A large flightless bird, Raphus cucullatus, with stumpy wings, 
which inhabited Mauritius until it became extinct in the 17th century. E17

2 An old-fashioned, stupid, or inactive person or institution. colloquial. L19

The poor, pathetic, utterly abused dodo! Until its discovery by European sailors in 1598, the dodo had lived a benign, carefree life on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. And then we showed up; within one-hundred years of its first contact with humans, it was extinct. Human beings - let us collectively take a bow.

As is typical for animals that exist with no natural predators, the dodo lacked any innate fear of humans, and was therefore caught completely by surprise when Portuguese sailors rolled up onto its paradisaic island and started feasting upon its bountiful (if rather distasteful) meat. Even worse, the sailors brought with them an entire bevy of even less discriminating predators - cats, dogs, pigs and rats. The dodo was so naive to the dire threat it now faced that, when one was trapped and in distress, its terrified cries of alarm did little more than bring all the other dodos in the area waddling over to see what all the fuss was about; hunting them was like shooting dodos in a barrel of a fish, and thus the plethora of predators now prowling the island made short, bloody and indiscriminate work of their species. 

As if our real-world brutalising of this poor bird wasn't enough, we have continued to add lexical insult to existential injury through our language, as we relish in our avicidal handiwork with expressions like as dead as a dodo. Also, in reference to something outdated, old-fashioned or obsolete, we sometimes say that something has gone the way of the dodo, as if it was the poor bird's fault for not keeping up with the times and immediately adapting to flesh-hungry sailors marauding all over its island with their predatory mammals in tow. Our disdain even extends to its name - dodo coming from 'fool' or 'simpleton' in Portuguese. Because, apparently, it was all the dodo's fault for being so stupid.

Do please leave your most aviphilic comments in the bird box below.

7 comments:

  1. I've never - but NEVER - heard that name in my entire life.
    And I have no knowledge of a "simpleton" which is "simplório" in Portuguese or "fool" which would be "tolo or (ou) idiota" to being called dodo.
    Ever. In any region of Portugal.
    So no added lexical insult for Dodo in Portuguese language. And the word doudo isn't used anymore. The U was replaced by I many centuries ago. Which turned doudo into "doido" which is used to call someone crazy, nuts... I can see doudo caming from Dodo though; we didn't send overseas the brightest of the pack and being an easy prey that wouldn't fly but waddle around the bird might have looked crazy/doudo (back then).
    But like I said never heard the noun or heard/read the expression "dead as a dodo" or "gone the way of the dodo"

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    1. According to the OED, dodo comes from the Portuguese duodo, meaning simpleton or fool, but this would of course be from the Portuguese of the 16th / 17th century.

      'Dead as a dodo' and 'gone the way of the dodo' are definitely English expressions, although there might of course be variations in other languages too.

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    2. I think originally the dodo was referred to as "pássaro doudo" "crazy bird" in old Portuguese.

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    3. Because I had heard different things regarding its etymology, I checked a number of sources when writing this post, including Chambers, Collins, Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology Dictionary, and all were in agreement with regards dodo's original meaning. I could see 'crazy' being used as a synonym for 'simple' or 'stupid', as it was apparently so easy to kill.

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  2. Wasn't Dodo the nickname of Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) of Alice in Wonderland fame? I think English dodos are endearingly ineffectual, as well as dead (for now, anyway: isn't someone trying to breed a new dodo, starting from some sort of a pigeon? I do hope so!).

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    1. Are they!? I had no idea. Although it could only be some selectively bred likeness of a dodo, couldn't it? I think the only specimens left are a desiccated head and foot in the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

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  3. http://news.sciencemag.org/paleontology/2015/04/ancient-megadrought-entombed-dodos-poisonous-fecal-cocktail

    More on Dodo

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