Week fifty-nine: PICKMAW (probability 31947), by David Sutton

PICKMAW is a Scots word for the black-headed gull, maw or mew being an old word for a gull, which is what gives us the odd-looking Spenserian plural MEAWES; there is no singular MEAW* or MEAWE*.

There are several other Scots words related to gulls; this is perhaps not surprising, as these along with other seabirds like gannets were an important part of the economy. The young men of St Kilda were renowned for their skill and daring in climbing the precipitous sea-stacks to harvest the eggs, and any young man seeking a bride was required to pass a rather terrifying initiation test that involved standing on one foot at the edge of a sheer drop on a stone known as the Mistress Stone, presumably to prove his suitability as a provider. And to think I complain about having to go to the supermarket.

But to return to gulls, an Orkney word for a young gull is a SCAURIE (also spelt SCOURIE or SCOWRIE). The young of the kittiwake gull before the first moult was called a TARROCK; an adult kittiwake was also known as HACKLET or HAGLET. The fulmar, another kind of gull, has a dialect name MALLEMUCK, though this is from the Dutch rather than the Scots: mal, foolish, plus mok, gull. I don't know why the Dutch should consider the fulmar particularly foolish. This has an alternative form MOLLYMAWK, used in New Zealand. The giant fulmar is also known as OSSIFRAGA, not to be confused with OSSIFRAGE which is a kind of vulture; both names are from the Latin and mean 'bone breaker'.

Finally, LARINE and LAROID mean gull-like.


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