Today’s entry is about bats. That should be cool.
Let’s start with Galician/Portuguese. In them, bat is morcego, coming from the latin words for mouse (mus) and blind (caecus).
Aside: Cego is still the word for a blind person, but the current word for mouse stems from the word for rat (mouse: rato, rat: rata), which even though it’s present in a similar form in most european languages, it has an uncertain origin.
With that into place, let’s arrive at the funny twist. Spanish took the same route from latin for bat (though it evolved in a different path and took the diminutive from caecus, caecŭlus) to give murciégalo. It you speak Spanish you probable just did a double take; but that was not a typo. Caecŭlus did turn originally into “ciégalo” (cf. current word for blind, ciego). It’s just that, by virtue of metathesis, the L and G swapped afterwards to give us current murciélago.
I like to tell this anecdote because it shows us how things that are strikingly “wrong” or divergent eventually become the norm. To stay in the topic of Spanish, many people frown upon those who pronounce cocreta for croqueta (french croquette). And, it would be inappropriate from a sociolinguistic point of view to say it that way in a formal context such as a book, or scientific report. But I can’t help to think that, among friends and family, it’s the exact same situation that gave us murciélago instead of murciégalo. Let’s keep an open mind.
Seems like a pretty common pattern to compare bats with mice, even though they are not biologically so close. French has chauve-souris (bald mouse), German Fledermaus (flapping mouse) and Basque saguzarra (old mouse), to mention a few. Chinese get poetical with sein-shii (sky mouse) but not as much as the Aztecs, going for quimichpapalotl (butterfly mouse). On a different note, Asturianu and Italian use esperteyu and pipistrello, from latin vesper “twilight”, after the time of the day they are usually seen (yes, the italian term had quite a walk since Latin, check the sources below for its journey).
I almost forgot to mention English! Bat comes from Old Norse blaka “flapper”, in a similar thought process as the German word.
Originally published in The blind mouse.