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It’s Raining Reindeer Lingo

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Martha recently spoke at a fundraiser for radio station KUAC in Alaska. While there in Fairbanks, she explored the University of Alaska’s magnificent Museum of the North, and paid a visit to Running Reindeer Ranch, where she learned a lot about these hardy creatures. When they’re wild they’re called caribou, but if they’re domesticated, they’re called reindeer. The rein- reindeer comes from an Old Norse word hreinn, which itself means “reindeer.” In early English, the word deer was used more generally than it is now, denoting lots of different small animals with four legs. Only later did the word deer apply specifically to one particular variety of animal. Literally, then, the word reindeeris something of a pleonasm, or “linguistic redundancy,” because it means something like “reindeer animal.” Antler may derive from Latin ante ocularis, meaning “before the eyes,” and in fact an old German word for “antler,” Augensprossen literally means “eye sprouts.” If you ever need an adjective for something that has to do with reindeer, it’s rangiferine. This is part of a complete episode.

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