budgerigar

This is a long word, but still can have a stubby sound because of all the voiced stops and affricates. It is as though it refers to a pudgy budget bird owned by Dagmar from Castlegar, who plays guitar and didgeridoo (Dagmar, not the budgerigar; you could probably lodge a budgerigar in a didgeridoo with the aid of a cudgel, but you might have to fudge it, depending on the age of the budgerigar and the bore of the didgeridoo). In fact, its object is a rather resplendent avian, bred in a variety of designer colours for the discerning owner, preferably one whose neighbours are deaf as posts. (Have you heard the screech of a parakeet? It’s not discreet.)

To me, this word has a particularly British air, probably because I’m only used to hearing Brits use the full forms; North Americans in general seem to stick with the short form, budgie, and my guess is that many or even most budgie-sayers are unaware of the long form. But although its pronunciation can involve a primus paeon (an accented beat followed by three unaccented beats), a particularly British pattern (North Americans tend to stick in an extra stress somewhere so they don’t have to tumble out three unstressed syllables as though falling down stairs; in this word, the extra goes at the end, making it a choriamb, like the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony), the word itself is undeniably Australian. As is the bird – for the last five million years, living in some rather inhospitable places. (As it still does, if you count cages in cramped living rooms.)

The Oxford English Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary, two of the best sources for etymology, have a bit of a disagreement about the exact origin of this word, however. Oxford says flatly that it comes from the “Port Jackson dialect” of “Native Australian” (which is as broad a term as “European”), from budgeri “good” (itself an Aussie English slang word too) and gar “cockatoo” (though it’s not a cockatoo, it’s a parakeet). AHD declares that it’s an altered form of the Kamilaroi word gijirrigaa. If budgeri was already common slang for “good” at the time, it is easy enough to imagine how it could have been swapped in. (Note the competing transliterations – old-style dg and new-style j.)

So why not just say budgie? Well, many do. But it’s not as fun, is it? And if this all seems perhaps wantonly prolix, consider that it is still shorter than the vocabulary of some budgerigars, which (the males especially) can be taught to imitate human speech: the largest vocabulary of any bird, according to Guinness, belonged to a budgerigar named Puck, which could say 1728 different words, whereas this note has but 482. This loquacious, stentorian, sesquipedalian bird ought to be a mascot of word tasting… except I really hate loud shrieks.

2 responses to “budgerigar

  1. I meant to say: I’m impressed by the first 2/3 (ish) of that first paragraph. Well done!

  2. Pingback: Birds as Pets | BIRDS AS PETS

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