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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Fine frogs

Frogs do not get good press in the Bible. We see plagues of frogs being used as a weapon against Pharaoh, and in the Revelation of St John the Divine, we read:

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

In spite of this, frogs like Kermit the muppet are generally seen as lovable creatures, but we all know that frogs were an ingredient in the witches' brew in Macbeth:
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
 Perhaps the frog is only there to make up a rhyme with 'dog'. Whatever the reason, any fear we may once have had of frogs seems to have been dispelled.

A poll is a head, and when politicians go to the polls, or pay attention to opinion polls, they are literally counting heads, while a poll-tax is a head tax. In Middle English, a polwygle was what we would now call a poll-wiggle, a wiggling head, and this name lives on in America as an alternative name for a tadpole, though it has by now become a polliwog or a pollywog. The more common form, tadpole, comes from the Middle English word for a toad, grafted onto poll, presumably because it appears to be a tailed head which has yet to grow the rest of the toad.

The Old English origin of 'frog' lies in the word frogga, not too unlike the German frosch or the Icelandic froskr. A toad was tádige or tádie, so when children call tadpoles 'taddies', they are not so far from their remote ancestors, a millennium ago. The frogs would not be all that impressed — if the palaeontologists are to be believed, the frogs have been around in much their present form for about 200 million years.

A frog may also appear on a coat, where it appears to be the Portuguese word frocoi, deriving from the Latin floccus, meaning 'flock', which, along another line, also gives us out word 'frock', as in 'frock-coat'. This sort of frog is an attachment to the coat for holding weaponry, or else a fastening, where a covered button passes through a loop on the opposite side of the garment. On a horse's hoof, though, a frog is not an old-fashioned form of road-kill, but a horny growth, possibly derived from a similar Italian word, forchetta.
A frog march involves four men each taking one limb of a difficult person, and carrying them, face down, a position which leaves them likely to be injured if they try to struggle, and we say we have a frog in our throat when we have sore throat that makes us croak. That particular usage was first recorded by the OED as far back as 1656.

Railway lines also have frogs, grooved pieces of iron that are placed where one rail crosses over another, and the French are often called "frogs" or "frog-eaters" by the English when they intend to be offensive. Legend has it that the residents of the 3rd Arrondissement in Paris, in the area near the Bastille known as Le Marais, or 'the marsh', commonly referred to themselves in the past as grenouilles, or frogs, so perhaps the term is not so offensive after all.

The act of eating frogs may turn out to be seriously offensive. In 1987, India banned the export of frogs from there to France, arguing that the loss of frogs led to increases in insects such as mosquitoes and also in tiny crabs that attack rice crops.

In all, the cost of insecticides and the losses to crops added up to more money than India earned in frog sales. Almost all French frog species have been protected since the 1950s, and the search for fresh supplies has caused problems in a number of countries, with the emphasis now on South-East Asia. Overall, it seems, the frogs are more good than bad.

So I am sad not to have seen any, so far on this trip.

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