While playing Trivial Pursuit earlier this week with a friend, I got a question asking what marine mammal's name translates to "fish pig". Harnessing my etymological skills, I went on to answer porpoise correctly and later win the game. I did this because I knew that the Latin word for "pig" was porcus and the word for "fish" was piscis (and what sounds like porcuspiscis?) I was very proud of myself, but there's more to it that that. Porpoise underwent a lot of variations in Middle English and Anglo-Norman, taking such forms as porpeys, porpas, purpeis, porpeis, and purpeys. In Old French, it likewise vacillated between pourpois, porpais, pourpais, and porpeis, all of course still referring to the dolphin-like creature. This comes from basically the Latin concoction that I devised: porcopiscis, or "fish pig", supposedly since porpoises have snouts similar to those of pigs. Then it breaks into the two separate words I already discussed. Porcus we've already seen to derive from Proto-Indo-European porkos through Proto-Italic porkos, and piscis comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, possibly from peh, "to feed". And before you ask, yes, piscis is the direct etymon of the zodiac pisces and yes, pork comes from porcus, through the French word porc, however. Yes. Fish pigs.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd