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shewhomust

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Dr Maturin's puffin [Jul. 2nd, 2015|05:54 pm]
shewhomust
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Help me, internet: do you know of any sort of concordance to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey / Maturin novels?

As I said, while I was in Berwick I picked up The Mauritius Command and Desolation Island, and swallowed them straight down in long draughts. I am not the reader they deserve, because most of the carefully researched nautical detail passes me straight by, and I am content to let it do so; I skip or at best skim the scholarly essays included in the backs of my paperback editions, pausing only to curse that they bulk out the number of pages remaining, so that the end of the book always comes as a surprise. I can usually tell from the narrative that Jack Aubrey has done something particularly clever with the arrangement of his sails, without any need to know what it is - and I suspect that the author is resigned to this, since he provides in Stephen Maturin a similarly uncomprehending observer, to whom may be explained as much - or as little - as is required.

It is the details of daily life, on ship and ashore, which make me wish for an easily accessible glossary. Sometimes a decent dictionary will do. In Desolation Island, transported convicts bring an outbreak of gaol-fever on board the Leopard (I don't think this is a spoiler; it is referred to in the back-cover copy). I'd heard the name before, and thought of it as any of the diseases that could break out and spread in the crowded and unsanitary prisons of the time: but here it seemed to refer to one specific disease, and I looked it up - yes, it's typhus.

The Branco puffin which appears in the same book was more elusive. Stephen goes ashore in search of physic-nuts (in the dictionary) and a Branco puffin (definitely not). He finds it at the house of a vendor of salted-preserved Branco nestlings (honorary fish, and so permitted food in Lent), and has the body of an adult nailed to his door as a sign. Stephen is delighted with this trophy, which is an authentic, true Branco puffin and not, as he had feared, a cormorant or gull. All the internet could offer me on this passage is this archived blogpost from Tom Watson, who dismisses it: "O'Brian was clearly inventing; even this non-birder knows a Puffin looks nothing like a Cormorant - that the two could hardly be confused. I suspect the great writer merely liked the sound of the words."

The sound of the words, that's the thing, and we have been here before: Martin Martin, writing at the end of the seventeenth century, does not attach the name 'puffinet' to what we now call a puffin, but to a shearwater. This was a more fruitful search topic. The first possibility I came across was the White-chinned or Spectacled Petrel, because in French it is a Puffin à menton blanc ou P. à lunettes, and I am delighted to learn that 'puffin' is a French word - but it won't do, it lives too far south - Dr Maturin is ashore in the Cape Verde islands (and the wonderful Patrick O' Brian Mapping Project helped me here).

Never mind, other shearwaters and petrels are also available: and charming though the Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis) is, the prime suspect is obviously the Cape Verde shearwater. The clue is in the name - and while it isn't all that like a a cormorant or a gull, Dr. Maturin probably doesn't expect too much accuracy from his informant.

So I'm glad we've got that cleared up. But does anyone know of any sort of concordance?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: cmcmck
2015-07-02 05:07 pm (UTC)
The Norse term for puffin is 'lund' as in Lundy- puffin island.

I've come across the Martin Martin reference, but not this particular naming, I have to admit, although one clue may be that there is an island of Branco in the Cape Verde islands and there is, apparently, a Cape verde Puffin.

Edited at 2015-07-02 05:34 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: cmcmck
2015-07-02 05:11 pm (UTC)
And trusting you can read French, voila:


https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puffin_du_Cap-Vert
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[User Picture]From: cmcmck
2015-07-02 05:32 pm (UTC)


Calonectris edwardsii- it's actually a species of shearwater but known as a puffin, so your guess is bang on.

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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-07-02 07:22 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's the Cape Verde shearwater I was talking about. Where did you find the rather splendid picture?
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[User Picture]From: cmcmck
2015-07-03 07:11 am (UTC)
Found the French wiki site- got the name then went pic hunting!

They calls it google fu! :o)

O'Brian clearly WASN'T inventing!
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2015-07-03 12:21 am (UTC)
The closest thing is A SEA OF WORDS, for the O'Brians.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-07-03 09:39 am (UTC)
Thank you - that does indeed look like the sort of thing I'm looking for.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2015-07-03 12:38 am (UTC)
This isn't what you're looking for, but there is a terribly helpful dictionary of naval terms, more or less of the period, on the shelve in the Lit & Phil. I had seen it once, wanted it again, couldn't remember title or author; so I rather selfconsciously did that thing where you go up to someone wise and say "Um, you have this book, it was red..." - and blessedly she didn't explode with frustration, she went directly to the right shelf and handed it to me. I miss the Lit & Phil.
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[User Picture]From: durham_rambler
2015-07-03 09:22 am (UTC)
And we shall be there this evening, it being Summer Phantoms, so there's an opportunity…
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-07-03 09:40 am (UTC)
What durham_rambler said: the Lit & Phil misses you, too...
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[User Picture]From: durham_rambler
2015-07-03 10:32 pm (UTC)
Kay told me this evening that she thought it was still shelved "over there".
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[User Picture]From: xen_opus
2015-09-01 05:48 pm (UTC)
I like your guess based on the French etymology; it's a pretty compelling case. There's also the ornithologic route: puffins are alcids; there's one species of alcid that breeds on the Cape Verde islands, the common murre (Uria aalge). A murre looks more like a puffin: a small, black-and-white seabird.




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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-09-01 09:09 pm (UTC)
I have seen murres (at the aquarium in Monterey), and they are indeed alcids (I didn't know that word, but I know them as alcidae).

But birds that are 'puffinus' in Latin, 'puffin' in French and doubtless similarly in other romance languages, tend to be shearwaters. I learned yesterday that the French for 'Maanx shearwater' is 'puffin des anglais' and am delighted to have an excuse to share that information with you.
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[User Picture]From: xen_opus
2015-09-02 01:00 am (UTC)
Yeah. After looking things up a little further I like your guess better.

Stephen Maturin would have been familiar with the French description, and the Common Murre was already categorized as far back as 1763. The Cape Verde shearwater wasn't categorized until the 1860's, so it would've been unknown at the time of the novels, and of interest to Stephen.

Cheers!
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