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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a yellowhammer

a yellowhammer bunting bird in a tree

The yellowhammer, a finch-like member of the bunting family, was also once known as the scribbling-lark because its eggs have extraordinarily ink-like markings on them:

Bird names are an untapped goldmine of linguistic peculiarities, and as a result pop up on HH fairly regularly.

So as well as a scribbling-lark or two, take a trip to the countryside with your binoculars and you might well spot a plum-budder, a poke-pudding, a sheldapple, a lady-with-the-twelve-flounces, a cuckoo’s-footman, a twitty-lark and, depending on the time of year, a Bohemian chatterer.

The name yellowhammer itself, however, isn’t without interest—not least because no one is entirely sure where it comes from.

One suggestion is that the “hammer” of yellowhammer is in fact an Old English word, hama, meaning “feathers”. Another claims it might be related to emmer, an old name for a type of wheat that the birds might once have been notorious for feeding on. Perhaps it comes from amore or amer, a word found in a number of Old English texts in reference to a tantalizingly unidentified species of bird.

Or perhaps somewhere along the line one or more of these origins have been conflated and confused, so there’s no single explanation here. Alas, no one can quite decide...

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