Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Monkey's...What?

Yesterday, one of my neighbors and I were gardening on Market Street. From our vantage point (towards Middle, Merrimack, and the river), it was a perfectly clear day -- a mostly blue sky, but with a few clouds as well. Seemingly out of nowhere, however, we got drenched. We looked back in the other direction, towards the Highlands, and saw that yes, there was an enormous rain cloud right above and behind us, and it was soaking us and our building.

I said, "Wow, it's a real monkey's wedding," which drew a puzzled look from him.

He hadn't heard the term before, but "monkey's wedding" is a common African expression used to describe a simultaneous occurrence of sunshine and rain. That's somewhat interesting on its own, but what's FAR more interesting is the number of cultures that use similar expressions to describe this weather phenomenon. In Gulf Arabic, it's a "rat's wedding." In Hindi (and other subcontinental tongues), it's a "jackal's wedding." In Korean, it's a "tiger's wedding." Just to make sure we're not forgetting our European brethren, the Bulgarians are known to use "bear's wedding."

In case you think I'm making any of this up, by the way, verification is a few keystrokes away via Google or Wiki.

This is what makes these terms truly amazing -- they developed independently of one another in completely faraway lands in near-completely unrelated languages. In other words, there's something human about seeing sunshine and rain at the same time and associating it not just with some strange or unlikely occurrence, but specifically with matrimony in the animal kingdom.

You don't have to be a total word origin and linguistics dork to admit that's pretty neat.

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