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Hoopoe Heads (minicast)

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Martha talks about the hoopoe, that colorful, clownish, extremely smelly bird—with a likely linguistic connection to defrauded hedge fund investors.

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Listen: Can you guess what this is?

‘Huup huup huup…huup huup huup…huup huup huup.’

No, it’s not Morse code. Not a baby chimp. It’s the sound of the hoopoe.

Funny-looking bird, the hoopoe. It has a pink head, zebra-striped wings, and what looks like a great party hat of pink feathers tipped in black and white.

The hoopoe’s flight is somewhat erratic, more like a butterfly than a bird. One other odd thing about hoopoes: their nests are extremely stinky. Hoopoes line their nests with their own droppings, all the better to keep predators away.

Even the bird’s name looks weird: It’s spelled h-o-o-p-o-e.

The hoopoe is found in much of Europe, Africa, and Asia. In many cultures, this bird is highly regarded. The Biblical King Solomon is said to have taken advice from a hoopoe. In fact, just last year Israelis voted the hoopoe their country’s national bird.

In other cultures, though, the hoopoe isn’t so well-regarded. In Greek myth, this otherworldly bird was a symbol of death. And in France, the hoopoe has long been considered stupid. Maybe that’s because of its colorful, clownish appearance, although I’m sure the nest thing didn’t help.

So, why am I telling you all this?

In ancient Rome, this bird that went ‘huup huup huup’ was called the upupa. Logical enough.

In Middle French, this name evolved into something that sounded more like uppe. It’s likely that from this word for the bird arose the modern French ‘dupe,’ a shortening of ‘tete d’uppe’ or ‘hoopoe head.’ In French, a ‘dupe’ is a ‘fool or simpleton.’

As you may have guessed, it’s this French word dupe from which we get the English word ‘dupe’ — someone who’s been played for a fool.

We’re hearing this word more and more, as the sordid details of Wall Street scandals emerge. And each time I come across that word ‘dupe,’ I can’t help but hear the distant call of the hoopoe.

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