This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Word To Use Today: hoatzin.

Yes, yes, hoatzin might be the least user-friendly word ever featured on The Word Den, but, hey, it's dead interesting.

For a start, hoatzin comes from a really really unusual language. Nahuatl, in fact. This makes clear, if not what a hoatzin is, then at least where it comes from. Yes, that atl ending points straight towards Central or Southern America.

So, what is a hoatzin? (You can spell it hoactzin if you must. Or you could call it a Stinkbird or a Canje Pheasant.)

It's one of these:

File:Hoatzin in Peru.jpg

Apart from the fact that the hoatzin is a dead ringer for a phoenix, a young hoatzin is unique in a very special way.

It's born with claws on its wings. This means it can clamber about in trees when it's too young to fly.

The claws drop off as it gets older, but in fact a hoatzin never gets much good at flying, and the reason for this is bound up in its Stink Bird alternative name.

No, it's not that the hoatzin is so smelly that it doesn't need to fly because no one will go anywhere near it (though there may be some truth in that: people don't eat hoatzin much).

The hoatzin smells strongly of manure. This is because a hoatzin eats mostly leaves, and digesting leaves is jolly difficult. Now, while you or I would simply decide to forget the leaves and stick instead with chocolate and chips, what the hoatzin does is to keep the leaves in its crop for ages and ages; until, in fact, the leaves have got all rotten and squidgy like baby food and it can digest them.


The trouble is that the poor bird has to keep so many leaves inside it that its flight muscles don't have much room to grow, and so it never gets to be an acrobat of the air.

And you know something? Given the choice between flying and eating I don't think it made such a daft decision.

Word To Use Today: hoatzin. This word comes from the  Nahuatl uatzin, which means pheasant.

How can you use the word hoatzin? Well, who would not be charmed and fascinated to hear about its digestive processes? I mean, could there possibly be a better chat-up line?


You could invent a new dish involving fermented cabbage and call it à la hoatzin, I suppose.

Or how about: what's the national bird of Guyana?


  1. I knew what a hoatzin was, but not any details about it.
    What a winged wonder it is!
    I think hoatzin would make a wonderful noun for something unique or unusual.

    1. Yes, that's a good idea, Jingles. Or it could be a metaphor for all the things you lose as you grow up and the clouds of glory so sadly dissipate,

  2. I think any guy that scores (by whatever definition) with a chat-up line that includes the word "Stinkbird" should win a medal. Or something; he should definitely win something.

    1. Honesty might be the best policy. "Hello, there's a blog I read sometimes that has suggested that people to talk to strangers about the bird called the hoatzin. You look really nice, so I thought you wouldn't mind."
      If she doesn't say "what's a hoatzin?" then any sort of a connection is doomed anyway.

    2. Girls don't go for blog readers, Or bloggers. Honestly, they don't. No chat-up line, introduction or conversation within the first two weeks of meeting should include the word 'blog'. On this, I am relatively absolutely certain.

    3. I haven't tried chatting anyone up for a long time, but I think the 'you look really nice' line trumps almost everything. Except possibly 'I spend a lot of my time playing war games' and 'I wouldn't mind going out with you as long as you wear a really short skirt.'