Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How did hedgehogs get their name?

Who's asking: Paul Guyot, St. Louis, MO

Dizzy and I are staying with my former housemate Megan, who has three dogs and two cats of her own. Megan's animals have an excellent selection of toys and treats, so it's like a luxury vacation for Dizzy. Of all the cool and fancy toys, the one he likes best is a mud-covered squeaky hedgehog that looks like it might carry an infectious disease. Go figure.

Anyway, I always assumed -- without thinking too much about it -- that "hedgehog" was the British term for "porcupine." Wrong. No existing hedgehog species is native to North America, so we don't see them in the wild (that's my excuse). They're not related to porcupines at all. They're a sort of large, spiny shrew or mole -- large for shrews (five or six pounds), but much smaller than porcupines. Also, their spikes don't come out easily, as porcupines' do. Their best-known characteristic is their ability to roll themselves into a tight ball, to protect themselves from predators (or serve as croquet balls for the Queen of Hearts).

British gardeners love hedgehogs, because hedgehogs eat bugs and mice in vast quantities. An adult hedgehog can eat up to eight percent of its body weight every day. The name "hedgehog" seems to be a literal description: they live on the edges of forests, in hedgerows, and in overgrown gardens, and they eat like hogs. The word comes from the Middle English word heyghoge, which means -- uh -- hedge-hog.

It's snowing here in Washington, and I'm a little dismayed. This trip was supposed to be a visit to spring.

Five Random Songs

"Suzie Lightning," Warren Zevon. This song catapults me back to the first half of 1994, when I thought of this as my personal theme song. "She only sleeps on planes/Feels like she's going nowhere..."

"Sing Me Spanish Techno," The New Pornographers. I've blogged before about how much I like this CD (Twin Cinema).

"Donna," from the Hair soundtrack. This was a protest musical, but it feels so optimistic that it (paradoxically) makes me sad.

"Another Galaxy," Paul Simon. I've been listening to this CD (Surprise) a lot lately, and every time I hear something new. Brian Eno produced the CD, and his influence is strong on this track.

"Cattle and Cane," The Go-Betweens. From Voices from the Dark, the compilation CD John Connolly put together as a companion to the U.S. edition of The Black Angel. His next book, The Unquiet, will include a new compilation, but only in the UK edition.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"British gardeners love hedgehogs, because hedgehogs eat bugs and mice in vast quantities. An adult hedgehog can eat up to eight percent of its body weight every day."

Because of this, the National Trust, which looks after buildings, coast and countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, uses "Trusty the Hedgehog" as a guide for children .
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/trusty/index.htm

click on "Hedgehog Facts" to learn more

AnswerGirl said...

Very cool link, Sue -- thanks! (Aren't you impressed that I know that's you, even though you didn't sign your comment?)

Anonymous said...

oops, forgot--sorry, I know how you hate that!