- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) the reciprocal, mutual love shared between parents and children, or the members of a family.
We’re talked before here on the HH blog about one of the dictionary’s more inventive etymological stories—namely, that behind the word pedigree, which can be traced back more than seven centuries to a French phrase, pied de gru.
That literally means a ‘stork’s’ or ‘crane’s foot.’ Supposedly, the broad sibling-spanning horizontal lines that connect the family members on genealogical diagrams so reminded mediaeval scribes of storks’ feet that they coined the word for these ancestral networks accordingly. Centuries of use and misuse then transformed that original French phrase into the word we use today, and as pied de gru morphed into pedigree, the stork’s connection to our family trees was lost to the etymological footnotes.
Lurking among the less familiar words the dictionary is another term we owe to the stork—albeit in a more direct way than the pedigree.
The Greek name for the stork was pelargos (which linguistic folklore would have you believe brings together two Greek roots meaning ‘dark’, pelos, and ‘white’, argos, in reference to the bird’s striking monochrome plumage). In antiquity, storks enjoyed a reputation for being among the bird world’s most diligently attentive and affectionate parents, with various tales from Greek and Roman legend claiming that young storks repaid their parents’ kindnesses by supporting their weight in flight in their old age, and that, at the end of their life, storks were rewarded for their dutiful parental skills by being transformed into humans and permitted to raise human children.
All of this lore is neatly captured in antipelargy, a criminally underused word for the reciprocal, automatic, and unquestioning love that connects parents to their children, and vice versa. “A mutual thankfulness or requital of a benefit,” as one dictionary from the early eighteenth century grandly put it, especially—in light of the stork’s care for their elders—that of “a child’s nourishing a parent in old age.”