(n.) the chain of bubbles left by an otter as it swims underwater
This week’s most popular HH fact was a rollover—the word chine first popped up on the Twitter feed last week, but ended this week as the week’s number one. It’s like the lottery, this thing.
Chine, in case you missed it, is a word for the trail of bubbles that appear in a body of water and indicate where an otter is swimming beneath the surface. Yes, that word is genuine: it’s sourced from the first volume of the English Dialect Dictionary, which defines it as “the small bubbles rising from an otter as he dives across the bottom of the water.”
The EDD pinpoints the word chine to the Northumberland region of northern England, and suggests that etymologically it’s just a local corruption of chain: lang-chines and short-chines are other Northumberland words for various types of farmyard equipment, while shoother-chines (literally, “shoulder-chains”) are the chains that link the panels of a yoke together.
While we’re on the subject of otters, incidentally, a few more from the HH archives: a group of otters is called a romp; an otter’s droppings are called its spraint; and in seventeenth century English, they were variously known as water-weasels, dog-fishers, and river-dogs. Just when they couldn’t get any better...