Botanical Wednesday: Bird poop onna stick


How romantic! I just learned that “the word mistletoe is a compound Old English word combining ‘mistel’ (which means “dung”) and ‘tan’ (which means twig) because it looks a bit like bird poop on a stick”.

Comments

  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    This source for OE has tons of words for ‘dung’, none of them ‘mistel’. And ‘mistel’ is given as the nominative/accusative case of the word for mistletoe or basil (which is also called ‘eorðmistel’). ‘misteltán’ is also mistletoe. Since ‘tán’ can be a noun ‘twig’ or adjective ‘branching’, seems more likely to be something like ‘branching basil’.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    …and since ‘eorð’ means (more or less) earth, not sure why basil would be called ‘earthdung’.

    chigau: Yeah :)

  3. ChasCPeterson says

    Whatever the etymology, it’s literally true that every mistletoe begins its life as a seed germinating in birdshit on a twig.
    (Around here it’s usually the shit of this bird.)

  4. Corvus Whiteneck says

    It is my understanding (though I should probably confirm w/ a reputable reference before posting this, oh well) that mistletoe is spread by birds eating the berries and defecating the seeds on new host tree branches. Even if the word origin is something else, mistletoe really is bird poop on a stick.

  5. Radium Coyote says

    I always found it more interesting that mistletoe was a plant parasite. I’m not certain exactly what that’s supposed to symbolize as in the “kiss under the mistletoe” tradition, but it smacks of hollywood vampires.

  6. Felix says

    “Mist” is the word for dung in German. The suffix -el is used to derivate nouns from other nouns, from verbs, or as partitions of whole numbers. Vier (four) – Viertel (quarter). Mist (dung) – Mistel (mistletoe), schlagen (to hit) – Schlägel (mallet).

  7. David Marjanović says

    Since ‘tán’ can be a noun ‘twig’ or adjective ‘branching’, seems more likely to be something like ‘branching basil’.

    But basil – basilikon, the royal one in Greek – is a thoroughly Mediterranean plant. Of course people elsewhere ended up calling it things like “earth-mistletoe” when it was introduced in their chilly lands.

    The suffix -el is used to derivate nouns from other nouns, from verbs, or as partitions of whole numbers. Vier (four) – Viertel (quarter).

    Oh no, not that one. That one is der vierte Teil, “the fourth part” (related to “deal”). Often, though, -el with silent e is real and forms diminutives.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Miststück is never actually used for “turd”; we don’t have a word for that at all. :-) It’s just an insult, like “piece of shit”, only milder and more dated.

    In some areas, BTW, the meaning has shifted to “trash”.

  9. JE Armstrong says

    A lot of mistletoe seeds end up on limbs because the fruits are rather sticky & mucilaginous, and when the seeds stick to birds’ beaks, birds rub their bills back and forth on twigs to remove the seeds leaving them sticking to the twig. Most mistletoe seeds will germinate readily when removed from their fruits (at least in tropical mistletoes) so no trip through the GI track was needed to scarify the seeds.

  10. abusedbypenguins says

    Poop-on-a-stick induces people to kiss? Very powerful bird poo. If that bird poops directly on your head, you turn into a sex-crazed zombie?

  11. Rich Woods says

    What JE Armstrong said. That’s what I was taught, at least, never that mistletoe seeds were spread by birds crapping onto convenient tree branches. Now, humans and tomato seeds, that’s a different thing: tomato plants growing near sewage farm outflows are a common sight.