'Aardvark' is a funny word. It crops up in jokes about dictionaries and it's quite satisfying to say out loud. Aardvark. Aaaaardavaaaark. Forget 'anteater', as functional as it is, 'aardvark' is where it's at.
This is a belief I have held for a long time. Along with words like 'gazebo' and 'queue', 'aardvark' is one of the most interesting we have. I truly believed that.
And then somebody asked me what 'aardvark' is in Japanese. Curious and eager to show off my language skills, I duly obliged.
As it happens, there are two ways to say 'aardvark' in Japanese. One is the English-fied 'aadobaaku', and the other is 'tsuchibuta'. 'Tsuchibuta' can be literally translated into English as 'ground pig'.
Ground pig. (As if pigs actually fly.)
Doesn't that suck all of the fun out of it? A bit like an aardvark sucking up ants from a badly concealed hill. 'Ground pig' makes the aardvark sound positively boring.
This did, of course, make me wonder if any other Japanese names for animals are a bit naff. Compound kanji can throw up all sorts of barely logical surprises.
There's 'swan', or 'shirotori' which literally means 'white bird'. A 'zebra' is likewise a 'shimauma' - a 'striped horse'. The hummingbird ('hachidori') is a 'bee bird'. The word for 'crocodile' bizarrely uses both the kanji for 'crocodile' and 'fish'.
I wouldn't find a rat nearly as interesting if we called it a 'sewer mouse'. I'm glad that some languages take a little more creative license with their naming conventions...