A fair number of Spanish nouns ending in j followed by a or o developed from Latin or Late Latin diminutives. One of those is the word for ‘sheep,’ oveja. It evolved from Late Latin ovicula, a diminutive of Latin ovis ‘sheep.’ Based on that, we have the adjective ovino/ovine, meaning ‘of or pertaining to or like sheep’ (compare bovino/bovine for cattle).

If we go back to Indo-European, we find that the root for ‘sheep’ was *owi– (and remember that the Romans pronounced the letter v as a in ovis). From that Indo-European root came native English ewe ‘female sheep.’

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria
    Nov 10, 2018 @ 16:11:04

    As usual, your posts make me think so much and look back in time. This post has brought me so many memories of the word ‘oveja’. I remember it took me some time (as with most other children I knew) to realize that ‘oveja’ was used for the female sheep only (if in singular), and that ‘carnero’ was used for the male (again, in singular).

    However, when used in plural, ‘ovejas’ in general referred to both male and female sheep (both the ‘oveja’ and ‘carnero’), similar to how in English ‘sheep’ is used to include both adult female and male (‘ewe’ and ‘ram’). The plural then changes (in both languages) when referring to the less-than-one-year young animal species. ‘Lamb’ is the English word for the young sheep, and ‘cordero’ is the Spanish word for its young also.

    Another term I had to review was that in English the castrated ram is called a ‘wether’, and in Spanish it’s called a ‘capón’. I suppose most young children don’t learn these differences simply because the plural ‘sheep’ and ‘ovejas’ is used as a general term to denote them all. The differences may be learned once or twice, but perhaps forgotten later on.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 10, 2018 @ 16:38:30

      You make many good points here. I’m glad the post brought back associations from earlier in your life.

      I think few speakers of English know wether in its own right, but only in the compound bellwether, literally ‘a sheep that leads the herd, often wearing a bell,’ and then figuratively ‘a person or thing that leads, a trendsetter.’


  2. Maria
    Nov 10, 2018 @ 21:28:53

    That’s fascinating about ‘bellwether’. Another interesting word I found for a castrated ram was ‘berbex’ (also verbēx).


  3. Maria
    Nov 11, 2018 @ 09:12:51

    You got the females! I was reading that the bighorn sheep numbers are stable, but that from time to time they have to be relocated to different parts of the country due to overhunting or disease. I believe in the 1930’s their population dwindled because of a virus transmitted by domestic sheep.

    The bighorn is the ultimate ‘dream’ hunt. Hunters pay the most expensive license to kill it because of the skill involved in finding one. They have to know how to find them (which can be a strenuous, steep, and uphill search). They also have to choose the ram by looking at the horns to try to get the oldest one. This can take weeks to accomplish.

    If you love bighorn rams, I advise you not don’t look at the images of hunters who have just killed one. The animals look like beautiful sculptures that seem alive, but are dead. I read that the hunters eat the meat. However, they have absolutely no need to do so because bighorn sheep hunters are amongst the wealthiest in the nation, paying at times up to 200K or more to actually win the licenses at private auctions.

    The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is a subspecies that is critically endangered (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_bighorn_sheep) and is not hunted.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 11, 2018 @ 09:58:24

      Thanks for the information. I hadn’t realized there are three subspecies. I assume the females I photographed in Canada are the Rocky Mountain subspecies.

      I’ve never been a hunter, so I won’t be looking for or at trophy photographs.


      • Maria
        Nov 11, 2018 @ 10:09:19

        I came upon one incidentally by simply reading an article, and wasn’t expecting it. There’s an article on the NYT that explains the whole situation. I found it really interesting. I was going to send you the link, but you might not like it because you’re an artist.


  4. shoreacres
    Nov 11, 2018 @ 22:21:58

    I don’t remember ever coming across the term ‘ovine’, although ‘bovine’ is a word I’ve used relatively frequently. ‘Ovine’ has a nice ring to it, and could be quite a handy adjective, particularly in phrases like “an ovine electorate.”

    Although the words aren’t at all associated, and are pronounced quite differently, when I saw ‘ewe’ I read it as Éwé, one of the primary languages of Ghana. The so-called ‘Charlies’ who criss-crossed West Africa — primarily dealers in tribal art, trade beads, carvings, and such — spoke a variety of languages, but Éwé was among them. I got to know a fellow named Charlie #19, who taught me useful phrases like ‘please’, and ‘thank you’, and ‘Too much money!’


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 12, 2018 @ 07:56:03

      I searched to see if you’re the first person to use the phrase “ovine electorate” and got 73 hits.

      Like you with ovine, I’d never heard of Éwé, which I see from your linked article goes by many names. Coincidentally I’m in the chapter of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel that deals with the language families of Africa, including of course the Niger-Congo family that includes Éwé.

      I imagine that “Too much money” was for you to say to a merchant trying to sell you something at an inflated price reserved mostly for foreigners.


  5. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Nov 30, 2018 @ 16:36:26

    reminds me of ‘arveja’ for green peas!

    thanks again for helping with the ‘muir tree’ quote… the battery is almost dead in the laptop, so i’m sending this pronto!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

%d bloggers like this: