Greenfinch and the Teign

Pronunciation is such a local thing. Who would have guessed that the River Teign would be pronounced “teen’. Or that when pronounced in the name Teignmouth it would be pronounced “tin”. Or that mouth would be pronounced “muff”. We’re walking up the Teen to Tinmuff when I spot a Greenfinch:

Greenfinch - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Finch is pronounced finch in English but should really be pronounced “fink”. The ch in Italian is pronounced like the ‘c’ in car. Or like the ‘k’ in fink. It’s meant to be the sound of the Chaffinch’s call: “Pink!”

Greenfinches are green birds which are like Chaffinches and Chaffinches call “Pink!” Our language has spread by the use of metaphor; calling something by the wrong name while transporting the properties of that other thing along with it. After all, where would new words come from if we didn’t call things by the name of other things which have something in common?

The scientific name of the Greenfinch is Carduelis chloris. Carduelis is from the Latin carduus, meaning thistle. What have Greenfinches got to do with thistles? Nothing. It’s the Goldfinch that loves to eat thistle seeds. Chloris? That must mean green, mustn’t it?

The Greenfinch: a green bird like the Chaffinch which calls “Pink!”

Carduelis chloris: a green bird like the Goldfinch which eats thistles.

The poor Greenfinch; called after other birds and never a metaphor for something else.

Metaphors: they’re the basis of our language development. Here’s the Teign:

Teign Valley - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I’m a Teignager.

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