26 April, 2006


English, dolphin.

French, dauphin, le Dauphin, the Valois heir, orig. d'Au fin, from the motto of Guy VIII of Vienne, To the end! (playing between la fin and the adjectival le fin, 'the fine'), and from the popular association of the Valois monarchs with the Christian virtue of caritas (signified by the dolphin) following the canonization of Louis IX. For the dolphin-determination link, compare porpoise / purpose.

Latin, delphinus, from Greek δελφις, 'dolphin', variant of δελφαξ, 'young pig', both from δελφύς, 'womb', from which also αδελφος, 'brother', lit. 'of the same womb' (see E. Benveniste, Indo-European Language and Society), from which Phil-adelphia, brotherly love. The womb-dolphin connection is unclear, but compare Delphi (Δελφοί), womb or omphalos (navel) of the world, in other words its centre, sacred to Apollo, and the story of Arion, beloved of Apollo and rescued at sea by dolphins.

German, Delphin or Tümmler. The former, a false classicism, in reaction to the native 'tumbler' or 'acrobat', coined by dissimilation from the IE root represented also in the names Adolf, Rudolf, which refer to adult and young dolphins respectively.

Cornish, Godolphin, for which see here.

Serbian, srecendan, contraction of Srecan Rodjendan, 'happy birthday', in recent vernacular replacing the older loanword delfin, from the popular tradition of giving chocolate or paper dolphins, or delphinoid amulets, again symbolising Christian charity and good luck, as birthday gifts.

English, dulphing, a nonce-word coined by Samuel Butler in Hudibras (1678) to describe the action of a dolphin's leap, 'gracefully dulphing', to rhyme with 'engulphing'.

English, endorphin, earlier endolphine, a fanciful classical formulation proposed in Punch by T. E. Hulme in 1909 to suggest the free play of the sea-creature in the water, as if by analogy to the spontaneous pleasure occasioned by the release of these chemical compounds in the brain.

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