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

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pablo Buitrago
    Feb 27, 2012 @ 12:05:40

    Interesting post Steven.
    I didn’t even know the word Tordo.
    This blog is very interesting and I’m sure I’m gonna learn lots of new things here.
    I haven’t been able to read much because I’ve been extremely busy, but I promise I’ll take a look soon.


  2. shoreacres
    Feb 27, 2012 @ 20:37:47

    And one of our most well-known and beautiful songbirds, the robin, is in the thrush family – its scientific name is Turdus migratorius. I see them more often in the hill country than here in Houston, but now and then we’ll have them for two or three days.

    It does sing beautifully.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 27, 2012 @ 21:45:10

      Thanks for pointing that out: I didn’t realize that a robin is in the thrush family and that its genus is Turdus. I’d have mentioned it if I’d known it, but now you’ve done it for me. Actually the American robin is one of the few birds I could recognize when I was growing up in New York.


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