Does any language lack a word for beak?
December 27, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Which languages, if any, have the same word for "beak" and "mouth"? Or: which languages lack a specific word for referring only to a "beak" (aka the hard, pointy, front end of a bird)?
posted by Greg Nog to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One Mandarin word for beak, 嘴 (tsui), also means mouth. But Mandarin has other words that specifically mean a bird's beak.

Wiktionary lists two Icelandic words for beak.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:28 AM on December 27, 2012

i made a google docs spreadsheet which runs the word beak through an auto translate to any language with an ISO639-1 language code name (sounds cool right?) some languages don't seem to auto translate, some don't have a translation. it's not a perfect list but it's a start.

here it is, i've set it so any one with the link can edit....

over 200 languages parsed, over 50 with a direct translation.
posted by chasles at 8:35 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am diggin' on the name of your spreadsheet, broseph
posted by Greg Nog at 8:36 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Khalkha Mongolian uses the same word for "beak" and domestic animal "muzzle" or "snout" (хошуу), but a different word for human "mouth" (ам). I get the impression the difference is related to the external appearance - how both beaks and snouts protrude from the face. It might be possible to use the word ам for the internal part of all three, or perhaps just for the internal part of mammals' mouths.
posted by scrambles at 8:39 AM on December 27, 2012

stop, i'm blushing!!

so i did a little more quick searching. turns out the positive results are the ONLY languages for which google supports machine translation. i googled around for a one-to-many translator with poor results.
posted by chasles at 8:43 AM on December 27, 2012

Although Latin has the word beccus, it looks like it was used very rarely at least in writing, probably because it came out of a Gallic word. Writers seem to mostly use rostrum, which can mean any of beak, snout, muzzle, or mouth (and also by analogy bow of a ship because of its curved shape, or a speaker's platform from the sense of a speaking mouth) - for instance Pliny's natural history has sicut alpium pyrrhocorax, luteo rostro niger, "like the alpine flame-red-raven (chough), black with a yellow rostrum (beak)".

The distinction that scrambles mentioned is probably somewhat present here, since os can also be used for any internal mouth. For instance, in the Metamorphoses:
ut canis ...leporem extento stringit vestigia rostro; alter...tangentiaque ora relinquit: "As when a dog has seen a hare and grazes its stepping feet with a stretched-out rostrum (snout); the [hare] [escapes] and leaves behind the touching os (mouth)".

On the other hand, rostrum is also used like this in Plautus:
quem tu adservare recte.. voles...apud ménsam plenam homini rostrum deliges: "He whom you wish to keep securely, tie down the man's rostrum (mouth) to a full table."

So I would argue that in writing at least the word is used to mean beak, but doesn't actually specify it being a "hard, pointy, front end of a bird" versus any sort of mouth or snout.
posted by daelin at 9:58 AM on December 27, 2012

In K'iche' the word for "beak" is tza'm. You use the same word for "nose" (on a human), "muzzle" (on a dog), "point" (on a pencil, knife or needle), "bit" (on a drill), and so on. Nipples are u-tza'm tu': "tza'm of a breast."

Basically, almost any time a creature or object has a forward-facing narrow or pointy bit, you can call that part its tza'm.

None of the dictionaries I've got scanned list a more specific word for "beak" than that. I'll be talking to a native speaker in a couple days — if I remember, I'll check with him and see if he knows of one.
posted by and so but then, we at 2:12 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Japanese word for beak is "kuchibashi" which translates to "mouth-chopsticks," where "kuchi" means "mouth" and is the same term used to describe the human mouth, among other things (spouts, openings of bottles, entrance/exit doors, etc.)
posted by illenion at 7:27 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Right, my K'iche'-speaking buddy agrees: "beak" is just tza'm, there's no special word for it. If you want to be more specific you say u-tza'm le pirpi'ch "the songbird's pointy bit" or u-tza'm le ak "the chicken's pointy bit" or whatever.
posted by and so but then, we at 11:59 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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