hyrax

Here’s a word for all you autodidax to add to your wisecrax. It grabs the eye right away, with its x – always an eye-snagger, a multiplier of visual effect – and add to that the y, which with the x gives it a particularly masculine air and a raking angularity (imagine vyrax! that would almost be too much).

And the sound covers the length of the mouth – start in the throat with /h/, and then sweep over from the middle to the front with the /aɪ/ diphthong. Swing the tongue near the alveolar ridge with /r/ and then open to a low front /æ/ before ending with the percussive back-front voicless /ks/.

Indeed, stylish, and about as masculine as tie racks. Perhaps a manly man wearing cologne containing styrax, built like Ajax, able to wield a fine ax.

Anyway, surely the opposite of Lorax, right? That little furry Seussian creature warning of the consequences of abusing the environment? Heck, the name tastes more of lumberjax than of tree huggers. And certainly not a furry little critter!

Relax. This beast is a relative of the elephant, and thus also of the manatee and dugong. All massive animals with no fur in sight. You can feel sure that this beast is…

…a furry little animal, one to two feet long, about 6 to 10 pounds. The size of your cat, in other words. And looking rather like a rodent with a very small tail. Its name comes from Greek ὕραξ hurax, a word for a shrew-mouse.

Which is not to say that they’re not feisty. Check out this video of one getting a baboon to back off: www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2NVu6F-eV4. But they have some linguistic interest too. It turns out they have dialects.

Dialects? Well, they “sing” a pattern to warn other hyraces (listen to a long recording of one, or watch a shorter recording of one, at www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/hyrax-song-complexity/). And that pattern varies geographically – slightly between close places, and more as the colonies get farther apart. Hyraces (or hyraxes, as you prefer) actually make a variety of vocalizations, as the situation demands. Hark, the hyrax startled sings…

And where do you find a hyrax? In the Bible, for one thing – it’s mentioned in some places, such as in Leviticus, where it is declared unfit to eat. Some old translations rendered it as coney or rabbit because the Renaissance Englishmen had no exposure to hyraces. You will also find it in various places in Africa. And, of course, at your leisure online or in your dictionary.

3 responses to “hyrax

  1. Pingback: styrax | Sesquiotica

  2. Pingback: manatee, dugong | Sesquiotica

  3. Pingback: thorax | Sesquiotica

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