Bohemian waxwing


: a large waxwing (Bombycilla garrula pallidiceps) of northern North America that closely resembles the smaller cedar waxwing

Word History


after the earlier species name Bombycilla bohemica, based on the 16th-century New Latin name Garrulus Bohemicus, with Bohemicus as a translation of Early Modern German Behemle, Boemerle, Boemerlin, derivatives of Boehem, Boeheim "Bohemia"

Note: This curious name for Bombycilla garrula is a translation of earlier taxonomic names (such as Bombycilla bohemica of Mathurin Jacques Brisson in his Ornithologie, ou Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux [Paris, 1760], p. 333), based on the pre-Linnaean name Garrulus Bohemicus, a designation first employed by Conrad Gessner in Historia animalium liber III, qui est de avium natura (Zürich, 1555), p. 674. According to Gessner, "I am calling this bird, whose picture I acquired from a Strasbourg artist who was ignorant of its name, Garrulus Bohemicus [literally, "Bohemian chatterer"]; however, I learned from others later that this species was called Behemle, that is, "Bohemian," around Nuremberg (although some also call a smaller species of thrush by a similar name)" ("Garrulum Bohemicum appello auem hanc, cuius picturam ab Argentoratensi pictore accepi, qui nomen eius ignorabat, sed ab aliis postea didici hac specie auem circa Norimbergam uocari Behemle, id est Bohemicam, (quanquam & turdi genus minus aliqui similiter nominant)"). The second bird to which Gessner refers is his Turdus iliacus (the redwing), for which he gives a variety of European vernacular names: " … elsewhere Boemerle, Bömerlin, Beemerziemar, or Behemle, as it were, Bohemian bird, or Bohemian thrush, for it is alleged to nest in Bohemia (though another bird [i.e., the waxwing], which has nothing in common with the thrushes, is also called Bohemian in the vernacular … )" (" … alibi Boemerle, Bömerlin, Beemerziemar, uel Behemle, quasi Bohemica auis, uel turdulus Bohemicus, in Bohemia enim nidificare fertur (sed alia quoque auis est Bohemica uulgò à quibusdam dicta, cui nihil cum turdis commune … )" - p. 729). A plethora of forms parallel or additional to those cited by Gessner can be found in dictionaries of standard and dialectal German. Presumably in folk belief the Czech lands—an adjacent country, though nonetheless foreign and somewhat remote—were considered the source of birds such as the waxwing and redwing that occasionally appeared in large flocks. This appellation suggests the designation of Romanis as boesmes, "Bohemians" (moderne bohèmes), in 15th-century France, though the placement of the Romani in Eastern Europe seems somewhat more in touch with reality. (The notion that the "Bohemian" in "Bohemian waxwing" makes specific reference to the Romani, i.e., that the sense is "vagrant, wandering," is not possible given the early date of the German bird names.)

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“Bohemian waxwing.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

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