Tordo is one of the Spanish words (the other being zorzal) for the type of songbird that English calls a thrush. Could the similarity of the Spanish and English words, I wondered, be evidence that they’re related? The tracing back of tordo to its Latin predecessor turdus made that seem more likely. To check further, I looked in my computer’s Dictionary application and found that thrush developed from Old English thrysce and is related to throstle, a word I’d never heard of. Going to the entry for throstle, I learned that it’s an old-fashioned British term for ‘a song thrush.’ More important, though, was the statement in the Origin section of that entry pointing out that throstle came “from an Indo-European root shared by Latin turdus ‘thrush.’” Case closed.
In looking up tordo in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española I found that the word also means, with respect to a horse, ‘que tiene el pelo mezclado de negro y blanco, como el plumaje del tordo.’ In other words, based on the plumage of a thrush, Spanish tordo was extended to a horse whose hair is patterned in black and white. Spanish, of course, is hardly alone in extending the meaning of a word based on some attribute of the thing. In the case of thrush, the American Heritage Dictionary notes that English has used the word as a slang term for ‘a woman who sings popular songs,’ based not on the way the bird looks but on its singing.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman