I really like the word “oryx”. You wanna know why? Because I cannot make the word-initial Dutch /g/ sound as in gemsbok, the Afrikaner name for this beautiful creature below. (Don’t @ me, I can make plenty of other similar consonant sounds, like the Kiswahili /gh/ and the German and Hebrew /ch/s.) “Oryx” is such a lovely, easily-pronounced alternative, no mangling of any Germanic languages required.
A gemsbok/oryx — a large southern African antelope. Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa.
It turns out, though, that this week’s bird is Euplectes ORIX, not Euplectes oryx, which is what I first thought. “Oryx” (acceptable plurals including oryx, oryxes, and orygen) entered Middle English from Latin some time before the Wycliffe Bible (1382), because there are oryx in the books of Deuteronomy and Isaiah. The word orix, though, is Latin for “rice”. Cf: Greek όρυζα (oruza), Italian orzo (“barley”, but in English at least it’s come to mean pasta cut to look like rice), etc.
Rice. Image via Wikipedia.
The Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix, Passeriformes: Ploceidae) is a small, red-and-black bird found in southern Africa. It eats insects and seeds — this might be the “rice” connection? Bishops do pretty well in captivity, so you may have seen these or the closely-related Northern Red Bishops as cage birds. (My grandfather’s nursing home lobby had some Black-winged Red Bishops, also closely related.)
A Southern Red Bishop, by JJ Harrison.
The genus name Euplectes comes from the prefix eu- (Greek for “good”, often used to mean “true” — this eukaryotes, eutrophication, even some more obscure ones like “eucalyptus” and “eucharist” and “euthanasia” ) plus a Latinised noun form of πλέκω (pleko, Greek, “to plait/braid”). In other words, Euplectes = good braiders.
Image description: a French braid. Or “plait” if you’re British.
The family name Ploceidae also comes from the Greek word πλέκω (pleko, “to plait/braid”), via the word πλοκευς (plokeus, typically translated as “weaver”). Strangely, modern Greek Google Translate has decided that πλοκευς means “installation”. I got nothin’.
The painting “Penelope and the Suitors” by John William Waterhouse. In the Odyssey, Penelope, wife of Odysseus, refuses to marry again until she’s woven a shroud for Laertes. Except every night she un-weaves the weaving she had done that day. (Yes, Penelope’s faithful to Odysseus, not knowing if he’s alive, whereas Odysseus cheats on her multiple times.)
The English word “bishop” dates to the Old English biscop and is cognate with the Old Norse biskup, coming to the Germanic languages via vulgar Latin ebiscopus, classical Latin episcopus (cf Episcopal Church), ancient Greek ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos, meaning “overseer”).
“Red” — which the OED defines as the colour of blood, a ruby, or a ripe tomato — has lovely cognates all over Indo-European: Sanskrit rudhira, Welsh rhudd, Lithuansian raudas, Latin ruber, and so forth.
“RED: the blood of angry men!” (a lyric in “Red & Black” from the musical Les Mis) (this is a picture of Enjolras, a character from Les Mis)
And finally, the English word “southern” dates to Old English — suðerna — and is Germanic in origin (West Frisian sud, Dutch zuid, German Sued, etc). The OED somewhat skeptically raises the possibility that these words could be related to the Indo-European word for “sun” (the sun in the northern hemisphere being mostly to the south). Also, it appears that the French words for “south” and “east”, sud and est, were 12th-ish century borrowings from English. Take that, Norman conquerors.
Anyway, there we have it. Southern Red Bishop: “Sun-Facing Tomato-Coloured Overseer, Good Braider, [Eats] Rice.”