Dive like the Mergus

Last time, I talked about oxen and horns. Today, let me shortly discuss ducks. And yes, you’re still on a Scuba Diving website, not a National Geographic issue.

If you read my previous post, you may recall that the Spanish words for diver —buzo and buceador— have traces going back to Portuguese. It seems obvious to conclude then that the word for diver in Portuguese should be similar to Spanish, correct?

But no.

In the case of Portuguese, the verb “to dive” and its agent noun “diver”, mergulhar and mergulhador respectively, hail from the Latin scientific denomination of several species of waterbirds or seaducks, the mergus (or the related genera mergellus).

These ducks are known for submerging completely underwater to catch fish and hence have become popular divers in Nature. Back when Latin was still spoken, the verb for going underwater was merguliare (derived from mergulus, mergus, mergere). And even in English, some of these ducks have the word “merganser” for part of their common name.

Next time you see a diving duck at your local pond, he’ll be probably on surface interval getting ready for the next plunge. Now I’m going to ponder about whether I should stick to this topic indefinitely (there are still over 6,000 languages to go).

Would you think landlocked countries have their own word for “diver” as well? Does anyone from Kazakhstan care to comment?

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