Week fifty-six: LANGAHA (probability 24801), by David Sutton

A LANGAHA is a kind of snake found in Madagascar, with a long, flexible, blade-shaped snout. The name is one of the relatively few words that we get from the Malagasy, an Austronesian language related to the Indonesian, Malay and Polynesia.

Not surprisingly, most of the others also relate to the unique fauna and flora of that great island. Thus we have BABACOOTE, SIFAKA and INDRIS or INDRI, which are kinds of lemur (the plural of INDRI is INDRIS, but INDRIS as a singular has its own plural INDRISES). Then there is DRONGO (plural DRONGO or DRONGOES), a fork-tailed insect-catching bird, FOSSA (or FOUSSA), a civet-like animal, TENREC (or TANREC), a hedgehog-like insectivore, and TALEGALLA, a brush turkey.

From the plant world we have RABANNA, a raffia-like fabric, and OUVIRANDRA, a water-plant, also known as lattice-leaf or lace-leaf from its leaves. But perhaps the oddest word is TANGHIN, a a Madagascan poison, formerly used to test the guilt of someone suspected of a crime: if you vomited it up you were innocent but if it killed you you were guilty (or possibly it was the other way round: then as now one can never quite trust the legal process to get things right...). The active principle of TANGHIN, which is derived from a tree of the periwinkle family, is called TANGHININ.


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