The pig named 'pig'

« previous post | next post »

According to the BBC News ("Quarantine for lonely Afghan pig", 5/7/2009)

Afghanistan's only known pig has been quarantined because of fears over swine flu, officials from Kabul Zoo say. […]

The director of the zoo, Aziz Gul Saqib, says the pig, whose name is Khanzir, is strong and healthy.

Stephen Jones, who sent in the link, comments:

Well, there's only one of them in the whole country so he's hardly likely to suffer from identity theft, but you'd think the BBC correspondent would have picked up on the fact that 'khanzir' means pig in Arabic (what it is in Pashto I don't have the least idea).

Perhaps some reader will be able to fill us in on this.

I believe I've heard of other zoo animals whose names are the associated common noun in some other language, but I can't call one to mind at the moment.

In any case, the Kabul zookeepers will need some onomastic advice before long:

Acknowledging that being Afghanistan's only pig is a lonely existence, Mr Saqib says he hopes to find Khanzir a female companion soon.

However, he says, because of swine flu, "it is a dangerous and difficult time to get a new pig for our pig".

Or perhap, when things settle down enough for the companion to arrive, she'll simply be named (the equivalent of) 'Miss Piggy'.

Update: A propos of How to Say It In Pashto, with a side order of edible animal, this is today's Doonesbury:


  1. anon said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

    I call my cat "Cat"; it wouldn't surprise me if that was the pig's name given that he's the only one in the country. I'm also reminded of the children's book Babe where the farmer entered Babe (the pig) into a sheepdog contest under the name "Pig."

  2. Karen said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

    Simba and Leo come to mind immediately.

  3. Karen said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

    I forgot Shere Khan, though technically he wasn't a zoo animal.

    I think pig is soowar in Pashto.

  4. D.O. said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    The same article informs us that Khanzir has been donated by China. Why didn't they give him a Chinese name?

  5. ACW said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

    Interesting … pig is chazer in Hebrew; the words are probably cognates, but I haven't noticed any other cases of Arabic n disappearing in Hebrew cognates until now. I'm not a Semiticist; does anyone know any comparable etyma?

  6. ACW said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    Apologies for malformed URL in previous.

  7. Ken Grabach said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

    And why only one pig, a male, at that. But maybe the name was given by the recipients rather than the donors.
    Since Pashto is an Iranian relative, and thus Indo-European, something like soowar seems to my layman's mind to make sense, related to swine, and the genus name Sus?

    [(myl) It's nice to be among laypersons who are willing to communicate in Pashto by trying to reconstruct forwards from Indo-European. ]

  8. Brian Campbell said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    According to the Amazon's preview of a Pashto-English Phrasebook, pig in Pashto is "khuk".

  9. Lameen said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

    ACW: Proto-Semitic n regularly disappears in Hebrew before a consonant. You can see it synchronically in n-initial verbs – nafal "he fell" > yipol "he will fall". Historically, it actually became a consonant (yippal), but modern Hebrew (probably under Yiddish influence) no longer has geminates.

  10. Theophylact said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

    One should not forget Stephan Pastis's comic strip Pearls Before Swine, featuring a pig named Pig, a rat named Rat, a goat named Goat, a zebra named Zebra, and crocodiles named Bob and Larry.

  11. Lazar said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

    On a similar note, I've always wondered why the God of Islam is rendered in English as "Allah", as if it were some distinctive name, when in reality it's just the Arabic word for "God", used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.

  12. nikhil said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 7:18 pm

    Is soowar really pashto? Soowar is pig in hindu/urdu — I would have thought that a word so basic would have it's own word in pashto. (I guess I'm being hindi-centric here, and perhaps we've taken it from the pashto)

  13. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 7:29 pm


    I'm being very speculative, here, but would it make sense that Christian authors at the time "Allah" was borrowed would be very unwilling to use the same word for the Islamic and the Christian god? Most European languages also use a different name for the god of Judaism.

  14. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 8:08 pm


    I believe that the use of "Allah" in English rather than "God" is a doctrinal issue for Muslims, to whom "Allah" is the unique true name of the only true God and should not be "translated" from Arabic. The fairly transparent etymology of the word as al+ilaahu is not relevant from their standpoint.

    Some Muslims, indeed, actively object to Christians using the name "Allah" for "God", although as you say this is perfectly normal for Arab Christians (Hausa, too).

    There was a fuss about this not long ago in Indonesia IIRC.

    @ Jean-Sébastien Girard:

    "Most European languages also use a different name for the god of Judaism."
    Surely not? What do you mean exactly? Jews and Christians of my acquaintance all say "God" when speaking English, at any rate.

  15. Stephen Jones said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

    It is fairly common to see 'Allah' translated as God. Mainstream Muslim theologians are in agreement with this. It is normal to have the profession of faith translated as 'There is no God but Allah' for the very reason that started this thread off.

    I would have thought that a word so basic would have it's own word in pashto

    Would it be basic in Pashto. Before being Islamic Afghanistan was Buddhist and South Asian Buddhists are nearly all vegetarians.

  16. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    @ACW's "I haven't noticed any other cases of Arabic n disappearing in Hebrew cognates until now": What Lameen said. Specific cases include "daughter" (Hebrew "bat", Arabic "bint") and "you" (Hebrew "ata/at/atem/aten", Arabic "anta/anti/antum/antunna").

  17. brad said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

    Is the phrase in the comic actual pashto, or just gibberish?

  18. mollymooly said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

    The donkey in Shrek is "Donkey".

    Not zoo animals, but: In Ireland, lipservice is paid to the Irish language by companies using generic nouns as brand names: lightbulbs called "solas" (light), toothpaste called "fiacla" (tooth), garbage bags called "bruascar" (rubbish) etc. Like props from a live-action version of "South Park".

  19. Cosma Shalizi said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

    All well and good, but the dominant language in Kabul is (or at least used to be!) Dari Persian, not Pashto. In which, I seem to recall, "pig" is khuk. But it's been a long time since I tried learning it, and this was not a major vocabulary item for obvious reasons.

    [(myl) This reminds me of a minor linguistic legend: when Elphinstone's army was attempting to retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad, in January of 1842, Akbar Khan was said to have yelled "spare them" in Dari (which the British knew) but "kill them" in Pashto (which they mostly did not) to the attacking (Ghilzai) forces.

    Elizabeth Butler's painting of William Brydon, the sole British survivor of the massacre:


  20. Bobbie said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

    When I lived in Warsaw, a friend had a dog named "Perro" which is Spanish for dog.

  21. Noetica said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

    Carl Darling Buck* deals with synonyms for swine (including hog), boar, barrow, sow, and pig ("understood as the young animal") in five separate correlated lists. The etymological trajectories and the semantic relations are complex; but PIE *sū- is implicated often: for sow, σῦς, sūs, swine, Slavic svinja, and Sanskrit sūkar[a,ī]. Given all that, something like soowar for Pashto and for Hindi-Urdu makes good sense.

    *A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages (1949; highly recommended)

  22. rootlesscosmo said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 12:44 am

    The dog launched into space by the USSR was officially identified as "Laika," which Wikipedia says is the name of several husky-like breeds; I suppose a rough English equivalent would be to call a dog "Hound" or "Retriever," that is, a category narrower than "dog" but broader than any recognized breed.

  23. Lugubert said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 2:35 am

    Platts' Urdu etc. Dictionary suggests Prakrit (suualo) and Sanskrit (shuukaraH) origins for Urdu suu'ar.

  24. Aaron Davies said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 4:12 am

    it's a common joke to name a cat "Cat" on the grounds that there's no point naming something that won't come when you call it

  25. Aaron Davies said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 4:13 am

    george of the jungle's best friend was an ape named Ape

  26. Robin said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 5:08 am

    Not a zoo animal, or even a real one, but the old New Zealand comic strip "Footrot Flats" has as a major character a dog known only as "Dog." The story being that he hated whatever his real name was, and would attack anyone attempting to use it. Mind you, the same comic had a cat named "Horse."

  27. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    Donkey Kong is an ape.

  28. Andrew said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 9:57 am

    I forgot Shere Khan, though technically he wasn't a zoo animal.

    I think in fact several characters in The Jungle Book fit this pattern. Certainly Hathi: Wikipedia suggests also Baloo.

  29. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 10:03 am

    My family named cats "cat" and dogs "dog", but in languages other than English: the cats Koshka (Russian) and Marjarah (Sanskrit), the (female) dog Shvani (Sanskrit).

  30. Karen said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 10:17 am

    "Laika" is a common dog's name in Russian. "Lai" is the characteristic bark or bay of a dog; the verb is laiat' – so "Laika" is more like "Growler, Bayer, Barker" than "Hound".

    It is true that "Laika" is also used for the generic "Eskimo dog".

  31. kd said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    We named our dog Jihah, which is Onondaga for "dog". I also know someone who just named their new puppy [so:wa:s], which is Cayuga for "dog".

    [(myl) Come to think of it, I've blogged at some length about my association with Kwala, whose name (I think I was told) is "dog" in some language, maybe Flathead. Certainly Kwala's predecessor's name was Kamooks (sp.?, "Muxie" for short), which is "dog" in Chinook Jargon. ]

  32. Bill Donovan said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 11:27 am

    Synchronicity happens if enough people do enough things and commune with enough people… What I read (in Jim Unger's "Herman" comic) at on 20090508: (it's a very fancy site, so at first sight, I couldn't figure out how to cite my reference; so shite, right? fuck it)

    Cradling the new baby in her arms: "We named him 'Uncle', after my mum's brother."

  33. ACW said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    Many thanks to Lameen and Ran for examples of disappearing n's in Hebrew. Now, of course, other examples occur to me, like the n in natan "he gave" vanishing in tenses other than past. In fact in the infinitive, latet, two n's vanish. Unless that's a different phenomenon. Sorry for the digression; I'll stop now.

  34. patricia said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    not a single mention of Cat from "Breakfast at Tiffany's"? If it weren't for him/her disappearing one rainy night, we might not have gotten our happy ending…

  35. patricia said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    oh, my aunt & uncle used to have a cat named Gato

  36. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

    The absence of -n- in Hebrew "khazir" חֲזִיר vs Arabic "khanzir" isn't the same as the cases cited above, like yippol imperfective of naphal, bath "daughter" cognate with Arabic bintun.

    In Biblical Hebrew original 'n' followed by a consonant usually assimilates totally, resulting in a geminate stop; various complications ensue (in the Tiberian tradition) from the fact the some consonants don't occur geminated, and that word-final geminates become single (as in "bath").

    This is an active part of Hebrew morphology and gets treated in Hebrew grammars accordingly.

    Neither modern Israeli nor traditional Ashkenazi pronunciation has these as geminates, just to confuse the issue; but with (some) stops the single consonants have become fricatives after vowels, while the original geminates haven't (hence nafal vs yipol).

    On this basis you'd expect the Tiberian Hebrew to have khazzir; but instead it has a single z and a reduced-vowel 'a'.

    Mind you, the Tiberian tradition (amazing achievement thought it is) is by no means infallible.

  37. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

    Sorry, I should have said "assimilates totally, resulting in a geminate consonant" (it's not always a stop)

  38. quodlibet said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

    The cartoon character Dudley Do-Right had a horse named Horse.

  39. M. Dalen said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

    I think my sister tries to do this, but she keeps getting it wrong. So far, she's had a rabbit named Donkey and a cat named Monkey. Clearly, she's rather confused about her species.

  40. aaron said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    @ Stephen Jones:

    "South Asian Buddhists are nearly all vegetarians" is so untrue it's laughable. Maybe for the clergy this is true (maybe), but not for lay buddhists.

  41. Kate Y. said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

    Re using the name Allah: the question of whether Group A's omnipotent deity is "the same as" Group B's omnipotent deity notwithstanding, there's precedent for using a distinct name. Consider the Virgin of Guadaloupe, Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow, etc.–all referring to the same Mary-mother-of-Jesus, but useful in identifying different aspects of her that the speaker wants to emphasize.

  42. Meesher said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    This seems similar to news coverage of the Al-Qa'ida member Azzam Al-Amriki, who news anchors have been saying is "also known as 'The American'". His name of course translates as "Adam the American"; there's no need for an a.k.a.

  43. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

    @Stephen Jones:

    Certainly there are plenty of Muslims who don't mind rendering "Allah" as "God", but the rendering you give of the first part of the Shahadah

    lā ilāha illa l-Lāh

    as "There is no God but Allah"

    surely does not illustrate this; the word rendered "God" is just the ordinary Arabic word for "(a) god"; it's quite distinct from "Allah", despite the obvious derivation. The word "Allah" even has a unique pharyngeal "l" sound which I believe is found only in this word in Arabic.

  44. marie-lucie said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 7:09 pm

    myl: Kamooks (sp.?, "Muxie" for short), which is "dog" in Chinook Jargon

    I found the phonetic/phonemic spelling kámuks for the ChJ word, which is from (real) Lower Chinook -xamuks, one of several words for the animal.

    Like most Chinook language nouns, this word is always found with one or two prefixes, for instance o:-gú-x.amukc 'my female dog' (o:- 'fem', -gu- 'my') (Boas), but the pidginized Chinook Jargon does not use these morphemes.

  45. Gav said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    Sooey! Sooooooooey! See them all come running. I'd bet half a crown that Khanzir answers to sooey.

  46. Dan T. said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

    I was just looking through the school newspapers I edited and published (with a ditto machine) in the 1970s as a teenager attending a private school. In a Sept. 1978 issue, I reported the presence of a new pet on the premises: "There is also a new dog, Sebaka (the name means "dog" in Russian), a Samoyed." My knowledge of Russian, both in 1978 and at present, is extremely minimal, so I have to take the word of whoever reported this fact to me.

  47. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 8:13 pm

    @David Eddyshaw on the interrupted "a" and non-geminated "z": That's a good point. Also, whereas Aramaic, like Arabic, usually has an /n/ in these words (such as "anta" for Hebrew "ata"), the Even-Shoshan dictionary gives the Aramaic cognate of "khazir" as "khazira" (חֲזִירָא). But it does list Arabic "khinzir" as cognate, so it's not just a crazy coincidence.

  48. Stephen Jones said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

    is so untrue it's laughable. Maybe for the clergy this is true (maybe), but not for lay buddhists.

    I don't think you'll find many Sri Lankan Buddhists eating pork, mate. Fish certainly, and possibly chicken in some cases. They actually close all butchers, poultry shops, and fishmongers on poya days.

    The situation is not true of Lanka or Thailand, but I think you'll find that most non-Moslems in South Asia are vegetarian.

  49. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 12:25 am

    In terms of J-S G's suggestion that European languages use different names for the "God of Judaism," I was also initially taken aback but wonder if he's referring to different ways of adapting the Tetragrammaton (e.g. "Jehovah" in English traditionally; Yahweh in modern Anglophone secular scholarly circles, but maybe something else in secular scholarly articles being published in French or German or what not)? Pious Jews themselves stopped saying the name sometime before the time of Christ, and by and large pious Christians never started (neither LXX nor Vulg nor vast majority of English translations try to render it rather than honor the taboo by substitution: some use of Jehovah in various English contexts esp. in 18th C. as a literary variant, akin to calling Jesus Emannuel, now largely obs. outside limited sectarian circles). I have, however, heard rabbis who were native English speakers referring to God (they might spell it G_d) as "Adonai" or "Hashem" w/o translating those words out of Hebrew. And there is what I find the somewhat endearing practice of the Rastafarians to call God "Jah," which does appear as his name 2 or 3 places in the KJV.

    For Christian examples, "Christos" itself, which was originally sort of a title rather than personal name (often said to be Gk. approximation of the Heb. word that has come into English as "messiah" has just been transliterated/adapted rather than translated out of Greek for every European language of which I am aware (so we don't say "Jesus the Greasy One" in English); note that "messiah" is someone more generic. In my limited experience, most English-speaking Orthodox Christians describe Mary as "Theotokos" in English rather than trying to translate it.

  50. Stephen Jones said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 5:06 am

    In my last post I meant 'not true for China or Thailand' not 'Lanka or Thailand'.

  51. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 5:35 am

    Χριστός "Khristos" is "anointed", and is just a straightforward Greek translation of "Mashiakh" מָשִׁיחַ

    I suspect J-S G did indeed mean something like different renderings of the Name; of course Christian practice in general in this case is not at variance with Jewish practice but actually derived from it, as you point out.

    As J-S G is possibly Francophone he may be thinking of the use of "l'Eternel" for YHWH which I think goes back only to Louis Segond.

    Overwhelmingly the commonest way among Christians of rendering YHWH is to use the local word for "Lord", following the tradition of the Septuagint, itself based on contemporary Jewish practice.

    The form "Jehovah" is just a mistake made by the Reformers who didn't understand the Q're Perpetuum convention used to write the Name in the Tiberian tradition.

  52. Squander Two said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 7:25 am

    In Corsica last year, I noticed that one of the local boys had a dog named "Bitch". How he spelled it in French, I have no idea.

  53. Eunoia said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    I understand Hannibal Lecter used the term 'long pig' ;-)

  54. marie-lucie said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

    Eu: one of the local boys had a dog named "Bitch". How he spelled it in French, I have no idea.

    "Bitch", most likely. He was probably quite unaware of the derogatory meaning of this word in ordinary English.

  55. marie-lucie said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

    (Sorry, I meant S2)

  56. aaron said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 5:36 am


    Out of the ~30 Sri Lankans I have known (nearly all as grad students in Hawaii), all Buddhist or lapsed, only one was vegetarian. True it was mostly eggs, chicken, and fish that they ate, but none specifically shied away from pork. I remember asking Anokha the vegetarian specifically how common it was, and she told me she only knew a couple of other vegetarians in her life. I have only known a few Tibetan Buddhists (none of them tibetan) but none of them were religiously proscribed from eating meat. I also know two Indian buddhists and neither eat beef but do eat everything else.

    I figured since you said "South Asia" you didn't mean China, Thailand, or Mongolia.

  57. Stephen Jones said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 7:59 am

    I live in Sri Lanka, but in the Catholic part.

    When I have been invited to a Buddhist's house I have never been offered meat, and have received explanations for this.

    There are some strange views (such as that sea fish are permissible but river fish not) but there is a strong consensus that Buddhists should not eat meat (a Buddhist monk eating meat would provoke the horror that a Catholic priest having a harem would).

    Vegetarianism is also the norm amongst Hindus in South India. It's not a question of not eating beef, but one of not eating any form of dead animal.

  58. Randy Hudson said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    Re Allah: Years ago I had some discussions of religion with a Muslim in Syria, in English. He would always say "the God" — a calque of al'lah. It's not uncommon for Muslims with better English to translate the profession of faith as "There is no god but God."

  59. marie-lucie said,

    May 12, 2009 @ 8:24 am

    A friend related to me a conversation he had once with a man from India who asked him his religion: "I am Jewish" – "Ah, the Jews! An ancient, a noble people. Tell me, what god do they worship?" – "Er, God, I mean, same as Christians".

  60. ariun said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:37 am

    Many Mongolians call their dogs "Bankhar" — literally "flat faced", but also used colloquially to mean "[Mongolian] dog" (the large, furry, dark and sturdy kind with light spots over the eyes). Another popular name is "Arslan" ("lion"). Here ya go:

    And btw, lots of Buddhists in Mongolia eat meat — beef, horse, whatever.

  61. Stephen Jones said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    And btw, lots of Buddhists in Mongolia eat meat — beef, horse, whatever.

    Mongolia is not South Asia. I suspect the proclivity to vegetarianism is more geographic than religious. Many, if not most, South Indian Hindus are vegetarian, yet Balinese Hindus appear to eat meat, and even beef if restaurant menus are anything to go by.

  62. H-Bob said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

    It's the only pig in the country and it lives in a zoo — isn't it already quarantined ?

  63. Nathan Myers said,

    May 20, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

    The actually-Tibetan Buddhist Gyuto monks (from a monastery in south India, all born since the exile) that we have had for dinner several times (yes, I know) expected to be fed meat. In southern Thailand my wife and I found it difficult to express the concept of vegetarianism. Restauranteurs there who were unused to tourists seemed to find the concept as incomprehensible as would your typical Texan.

RSS feed for comments on this post