This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Monday, 10 February 2014

Spot the frippet: toadeater.

Loads of people eat frogs, so toadeaters must be fairly common, too, mustn't they?

I mean, what's difference between a frog and a toad?

Well, there isn't one, really, though the animals we call toads tend towards crawling rather than jumping, and they also tend to be warty.

Nature being the miracle of efficiency that she is, the two are connected. The warts tend to contain jolly nasty-tasting (and sometimes actually poisonous) stuff. This is why toads are generally not on anyone's menu, and so have no need to...er...hop it.

Sorry.

So, does anyone eat toads? Well, some snakes do, and raccoons  sometimes eat the non-warty bits. Other than that, most animals have learned to leave them alone.

That hasn't stopped the Cane Toad from causing many deaths amongst native Australian animals. You see, the Cane Toad is an introduced species, and so the native animals have yet to learn that it's lethal.


Northern Quolls:


 have been particularly badly hit.

Fortunately, the Black Kite, Milvus migrans, has learned to eat the non-poisonous bits of Cane Toads, and there are stories of Dahl's Aquatic Frog Litoria dahlii eating the tadpoles. There's also a possibility that the jaws of some snakes are getting smaller so they can't eat big toads, and in this way they can't take in lethal amounts of poison and so live to kill again.

Meat ants, saw-shelled turtles, and Torresian Crows love Cane Toads.

Ew!

But, you will cry, if this is the case, how on earth am I supposed to spot a toadeater?

Well, luckily a toadeater started out as a word for a quack or mountebank's assistant. The toadeater would pretend to eat toads, and then he would be "cured" by the quack. From there toadeater has gone on to mean anyone who fawns or flatters. Nowadays they're usually called toadies.

And one of those isn't hard to spot at all. 

If you have difficulty, just look near the elbow of your nearest boss or teacher.

Spot the frippet: toadeater. Named, as you know, after a mountebank's assistant.

4 comments:

  1. In my younger days, I innocently (or stupidly!) thought a toadeater was a person who reprimanded bad people, because toads are bad don't you know!
    And if you're going to eat them, you must be a strong-willed person!
    I was rather disappointed when I discovered the true meaning.

    Thank you for all the goodies on the real toads. I didn't know most of it.
    I'd never heard of the Northern Quoll neither. Cute little devil.

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    1. Thanks very much, Jingles. I, too, spend a lot of my life making spurious connections and generally wondering what on earth's going on.
      I must research the word toad in various languages and see if there's any evidence people in other lands associate them with badness.

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  2. One of my favourite discovered words as I read the OED is batrachian, meaning 'of or pertaining to frogs and toads'.

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    1. Thanks for the link to the excellent LEXICOLATRY post, Ed, and long life and success to all amphibians everywhere.

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