On a real goose chase

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I had one of my editors reach out to me last week with a comment from a reader about one of the columns. If there is a letter to the editor that gets published, it is usually someone not liking my writing style, thinking I brag about myself too much, or expressing how awful hunting and fishing is in general. However, when there is a comment coming from a reader being parlayed through my editor, it is usually something supporting my column whether there was a helpful tip, a reminder of a childhood trip for the reader, or something else benevolent.

This comment was neither. Well, it was kind of neither. There was nothing bad about the column, but it was a comment about my misidentification of the proper name of a goose.

Shakespeare once coined the phrase: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Now to dissect this statement, we first need to recognize I misused the word phrase. You see, the phrase technically means a group of words that stand together and are typically forming a component of a clause.

Second, if rose was capitalized it could change the whole meaning as well, indicating Shakespeare may be mistaken, since a capitalized Rose could actually be the name of a skunk. And of all the skunks I have smelled before, none would be what I would call sweet. Unless, of course, sweet has a new meaning as well.

Looking at that group of sentences, it is easy to see rose is not Rose, so we are talking about the flower and not a skunk’s name. Speaking aloud the group of sentences, we could be easily fooled. Maybe.

In the past I have written on this very subject, using the same Shakespeare quote from Romeo and Juliet, regarding fishing for bream. Bream happens to be a great example of where I am leading. Another spelling I have seen for the small sunfish is brim. Brim is not a fish, but rather the rim of a hat or the point of overflowing (fill it to the brim). But one day, I expect things to change. Especially here in the South, it seems brim is commonly used. Maybe not quite as much as bream, but close.

So, due to the amount of incorrect usage, the word brim will likely go the way of possum. One of my pet peeves is that word possum. I took pride in knowing possum was spelled opossum during a spelling be sometime back in the early 80’s. Knowing now that possum is an accepted spelling of opossum just infuriates me.

The mountain lion has a completely different allowed nomenclature. You see, mountain lion, pantera, panther, cougar. They are all accepted and rightfully so. There are many other names for the big cat as well, due mainly to the different areas of dialect of various tribes and settlers over the decades.

But we are here about that goose thing. I called the goose a Canadian goose. That name is what I grew up with. If that goose played hockey, I wonder if it would be a Canadien goose? Probably not. Although that hockey team has made me misspell Canadian a time or two by mistake. The reader made a point to explain the goose is properly called a Canada goose.

Herein lies the problem. Canada goose was once the accepted name of the black and grey honker, but there are actually more people that call it a Canadian goose, and that name has been accepted for at least 50 years.

But the proper name? Neither of those names are proper for the sometimes troublesome, always loud fowl that now finds a home year-round in more places than the north. There was a scientific article on this issue written several years ago by a scholar far more educated than myself. The scholar explained that neither Canada goose or Canadian goose is the proper name. The only proper name is the scientific name which is in Latin, branta canadensis.

Personally, I have no idea if canadensis means Canada or Canadian once translated. But this brings yet another issue; how does one come up with canadensis in the first place, since Latin became a dead language long before Canada was named Canada?

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.