Dear, dear...it's a deer...and two killdeer, too
This week, let’s start with a grammar question: If the plural of deer is deer, is the plural of killdeer killdeer?
Common sense, which seems to be a rare commodity these days, might suggest that more than one killdeer would be killdeer.
That is said based on the notion that more than one white-tailed deer would be, say, two white-tailed deer. The singular and the plural are the same thing.
With that in mind, I still find it somewhat fascinating that one Canada goose, joined by another Canada goose, creates a situation involving two Canada geese. Based on the deer guidelines, why wouldn’t two Canada geese simply be two Canada goose? Of course, that’s just not possible, you silly goose.
Same goes for a moose. As far as I know, while we do have lots of deers in Southern Illinois, nobody has seen a loose moose in our neck of the woods. But let’s say that somebody saw more than one moose on the loose, maybe down by the Jonesboro Library caboose. More than one moose would not be mooses, or meese...they would be moose. Go figure. Or, don’t.
(By the way: yes, I know that we’ve engaged in this discussion a number of times over the years. I just think it’s fun to play with some of the words in the English language, like gooses and geeses and mooses and meeses and mouses and mices, and so on and sew fourth.)
That brings us back to determining the plural of killdeer. Both the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and a 1965 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language informed me that the plural of killdeer is killdeer...or...maybe...killdeers. So, what’s a person to do?
You may be wondering (or maybe you aren’t wondering) why we’re spending so much time on killdeer. Or killdeers.
One cold evening last week, I was on my daily walkabout and happened to spot a couple of killdeer/s. I guess the birds were out for a walk, too. At the time I saw them, the killdeer/s were walking along, and occasionally, right on the railroad tracks which are the middle of the village we call home.
As often happens, one thing led to another after my encounter with the birds. In addition to wondering about the plural of killdeer, it occurred to me that I really did not know much about these birds, which I see quite often on my walkabouts.
The aforementioned online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary shared that the killdeer is “an American plover (Charadrius vociferus) characterized by two black breast bands and a plaintive penetrating cry.”
“This attractive dark-eyed bird had a loud, rather sad cry that to some people sounds like ‘Kill deer! Kill deer!’ Killdeers are not vicious birds. They have no special hatred of deer, and they do not eat venison. The killdeer is simply an animal that got its name from human interpretation of its call.” And, just in case you were wondering, the first known use of the word “killdeer” was in 1731.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, shared on its website that the killdeer is “a shorebird you can see without going to the beach.” (There was a little bit of standing water left over from recent rainfall near the railroad tracks. Don’t know if that counts as a beach, though.)
“These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey.” (Since it was early January, and very cold at the time, I don’t think they would have seen very many insects.)
“Killdeer lay their eggs into an empty nest but add other materials later on. Some of these items they pick up as they are leaving and toss over their shoulder into the nest. In one nest in Oklahoma, people found more than 1,500 pebbles had accumulated this way.”
Now that you have read this fascinating exercise in word crafting, and you have learned more than you would ever want to know about killdeers/s, you can at least be grateful that what you are seeing this week does not include yet another photograph of a turtle. You are welcome.
Hope you’ll allow me just a brief reflection on what unfolded last week at the U.S. Capitol...sad...incredibly sad...