Narrative Etymology: Eek-hoorns

How the Eekhoorn got his name.

Once upon a time, there were three English cousins named Richard, Prudence and Adrian. They got it in their mind to visit the Netherlands because they loved cheese so much, and they had heard tales of the low country’s legendary cheese shops – even markets! – that they just could not resist.

So they borrowed their other cousin’s Geoff’s boat, rowed across the North Sea, landed on the beach, hid their boat under a juniper bush in the dunes and eagerly set out searching for cheese.

Now, in those days there weren’t so many roads and houses and recreational facilities as nowadays, so they walked for three days on end without seeing anyone or, what was more worrying, any cheese. They found themselves in a dark forest and halted for a moment to take a rest and to admire the magnificent oak trees all around them.

“Blimey!”, Prudence exclaimed, “look at all them squirrels!”

“I say!”, Adrian remarked approvingly, “you’re right! Just look: there must be dozens of ‘m!”

“Maybe they ate all the cheese!”, Richard grumbled, as always the least sunnily dispositioned of the three.

“I don’t think so …” Prudence frowned, they all seem to eat acorns.”

“ACORNS?” the others replied flabbergasted.

“Just look closely … ” Prudence pointed.

Now it chanced that at that very moment, two Dutch natives passed within earshot. They were both well-respected linguists and tasked with making up sensible names for things that hadn’t got a name as yet – and they were quite a few of those back then. They heard the three English cousins arguing between the tall trees and approached curiously though professionally, because they perceived something unusual about their accent that piqued their interest. They emerged from between the trees just as Prudence was pointing to the squirrels and the others called out “ACORNS?”.

They stopped dead in their tracks and looked at one another, slowly repeating to one another in unison: “Eeck-orns?” and then looked at the frolicking squirrels. “Wis en drie, Tjoris! Eeck-hoorns! Welck een terecht ende bij-den-lurven-packende naam voor ‘In ’t geboomte lanterfantend groot-staertig pluysgedierte’!”

“Well alle vogelen-zonder-nestas, Corneel! ’T gedierte stond wel boven-aan de ‘Lyst, bevattende diezulcken saecken, diewelcke ’t meest nydig te springen staen om eenen werckelycken Naam’! Eeck-hoorns! Warempel! Dit sal onze bonus-malus-reegelingh stellig geen cwaet doen!” (*)

Whooping and cheering like that, they embraced the three English cousins, whose flabbergastedness had risen to unprecedented heights. But after they had been taken to the ‘Club-huisch van ’t Etymologisch Geselscap’ and fed all the Gouda and Old Amsterdam they could stuff, they were quite content with the whole thing, even though they never got to the gist of the matter.

(*) “I say, Tjoris! Eeck-hoorns! What a splendid and utterly catchy name for ‘Tree-lallygagging large-tailed fuzzybeast’!” “To be or not to be, Corneel! The blasted creature was topping the ‘List, containing such items that are in the most dire need to be assigned a Proper Name’! Eek-hoorns! By Jove! I bet this won’t hurt our allowance either!”