Friday, 28 November 2014

Greetings, badger enthusiasts!

Welcome to The Badger Files, an irregularly-updated site for badger-related information, commentaries, observations, queries, and advocacy. It's in part an extension of the research I did for my book, Badger (Reaktion Books, 2015), and the dawning reality that much of the material I wanted to share couldn't be included due to page limits and the necessity of editing to a more streamlined narrative. (I had to cut 10,000 words from the original manuscript, and have a lot of additional unincorporated information and materials from over the course of the project.) It's also a way to continue the conversation with so many people who share my fascination with these delightful creatures, as I continue to receive textual references, stories, anecdotes, images, and other assorted badger goodies from other casual and dedicated badger boosters, which have to date simply ended up in a file tucked away on my computer. So, for those who are interested in the lives and lore of these most fascinating mustelids, many greetings!

What is a badger? A simple question, but not such a simple answer, as the category of "badger" is actually quite a malleable and dynamic one. Historically, and across many cultures throughout the world, badgers have long been considered a smallish type of bear, dog, or pig, both biologically and ceremonially. While some of those cultural associations continue today, especially regarding badger-bear kinship, among biologists badgers are widely categorized as fossorial (digging) members of the weasel family, Mustelidae, or the mustelids. (That name is likely derived from "mus"--the Latin for mouse--and meaning either "mouse-killer" for their predation habits or "long-mouse" for the weasel's streamlined form). Badgers are therefore related to weasels, polecats/ferrets, martens, fishers, wolverines, minks, and otters. And of badgers, there are three definite types--the Eurasian, the North American, and the hog badger of southeast Asia--with honey badgers/ratels and ferret badgers distant relations variously included or excluded from the family depending on who's doing the categorizing. (I include the three "true" badgers and honey badgers as the primary topics of discussion in the book, but there's quite a bit of debate about the place of honey badgers, as they're quite distantly related from the other badger-kin even while filling their ecological niche throughout Africa. Ferret badgers are increasingly identified in their own category of mustelids, while stink badgers are now generally considered to be more closely related to skunks than weasels, another example of evolving taxonomies.)

"Badger" is an English word likely referencing the facial markings, which resemble the bold heraldic devices (badges) of medieval knights. Other derivations, such as the French becheur, are plausible but less likely. Either way, these largely nocturnal and shy carnivores have many names in many lands throughout the world, a very short list of which includes: 
  • anaguma (Japanese for the domestic Eurasian species)
  • Arctonyx (Latin genus for hog badger)
  • asvos (Greek for Eurasian badger)
  • badger (modern English for the Eurasian badger)
  • bageard (early English for the Eurasian badger)
  • balisaur (one iteration of the Hindi for hog badger)
  • bauson (12th-century English, for the white stripe on the Eurasian species' forehead)
  • bêcheur (French, referencing a person digging with a shovel or spade)
  • blaireau (French for Eurasian badger)
  • borsuk (Polish for Eurasian badger)
  • brárow (corruption of the French blaireau, as written in the journals of Lewis and Clark, c. 1803-04)
  • broch and brock (from the Gaelic broc, for Eurasian badger)
  • cho car tooch (William Clark's translation of the Pawnee term for North American badger, c. 1803-04)
  • Dachs (German for Eurasian badger)
  • das (Dutch for Eurasian badger)
  • dyuupih (Acoma Pueblo for North American badger)
  • Garta (a regional term for honey badger in Basra, Iraq, for a ravenous monster)
  • gorpat (Sindhi for honey badger, for "gravedigger")
  • gray (archaic English term for Eurasian badger)
  • grevling (Norwegian for Eurasian badger, for "digger")
  • hoka (Lakota for North American badger)
  • honani (Hopi for North American badger)
  • hú:ri (Yoreme/Mayo for North American badger)
  • huān (Mandarin for Eurasian badger, a homophone for the word for "happiness")
  • jezevec (Czech for Eurasian badger)
  • khwe-tu wet-tu (one iteration of the Burmese for hog badger)
  • Kìrìphá-kö (Hadza for honey badger)
  • mádár (Sami for Eurasian badger)
  • mäyrä (Finnish for Eurasian badger)
  • Meles (Latin genus for Eurasian badger)
  • Mellivora (Latin genus for honey badger, from "mel" for honey and "voro" to devour)
  • melot (medieval Latin-turned-English term for Eurasian badger)
  • mishauk-waukidjeesh (a regional Anishinaabe term for North American badger)
  • mistanask (Plains Cree for North American badger, meaning "big claws")
  • msuguk (Potawatomi for North American badger)
  • mujina (Japanese, for a spirit in badger form)
  • nahashch’id (Diné/Navajo for North American badger, meaning "scratches around")
  • owâcihkêsîs (Plains Cree for North American badger, meaning "hole-digger"; according to one linguist, also a word used for hobbits!)
  • pryf llwyd (Welsh for Eurasian badger)
  • ratel (Afrikaans for honey badger, either from "raat," for honeycomb or a reference to its agitated rattling noise)
  • sisi(ri) (Asante for honey badger)
  • taisson (regional French term for the Eurasian badger)
  • tanuki (Japanese term generally applied to the raccoon dog, though often translated as badger by non-Japanese)
  • tasso (Italian for Eurasian badger)
  • Taxidea (Latin-Greek genus for the North American badger, roughly "a type of badger")
  • taxo (Latin root for badger)
  • teixugo (Portugese for Eurasian badger)
  • tejón (Castilian for both Eurasian and North American badgers, also applied to the coati in Mexico)
  • tlalcoyote (Nahuatl for North American badger, meaning "earth coyote"; in contemporary usage, also refers to a kind of dangerous spirit)
  • toixó (Catalan for Eurasian badger)
  • uguna (Cherokee for North American badger)
  • vjedhulle (Albanian for Eurasian badger)
Even this short sampling of names gestures to the many diverse ideas and traditions around these mysterious mustelids. Much more to come! In the meantime, come the new year check out Badger, part of the Animal Series from Reaktion Books.