Word of the Week: ‘Tom’



Word of the Week: ‘Tom’

Fancy restaurants feel the need to add adjectives to let you know “that’s no ordinary ingredient.” It’s not a tomato, it’s an heirloom tomato. It’s not a lemon, it’s a Meyer lemon. But they often take it too far, adding purely redundant descriptors, such as “baked bread.” One I saw recently took the moist cake: It was a garden salad of fresh mesclun with a “hen’s egg.” As opposed to what, a cock’s egg?

Seeing that menu in the run-up to Thanksgiving was a lucky coincidence, because it got me thinking of words for male and female animals. Fun word facts abound when it comes to different sexes of animals. Obviously, there’s a word for a female dog: I will never get over how mortified I was as a child when, before knowing where the b-word actually came from, my mother stopped another Southern lady in the park and asked if her dog was a bitch. But there are many more. Did you know that both a female crab and a female donkey can be called a jenny? A female hawk is just called a hawk, but her mating partner is called a tiercel. A pair of rabbits, of course, are a jack and a jill, and, pleasingly, a pair of seahorses are a seamare and a seastallion. Geese you’ve heard, because what’s good for the goose is, well, you know.

But back to hens and Thanksgiving and the coincidence that led to this column: Turkeys, too, are called hens when they’re female. The males can be called gobblers (hilariously), but they are also called toms. And for whatever reason, the “hen’s egg” thing reminded me of toms, and toms reminded me of something I came upon last Thanksgiving too late to put it into Word of the Week — namely, the best example of an “aptronym” I have ever come across. An aptronym, also semi-jokingly called “nominative determinism” as a play on terms from philosophy, is a name that is very apt. It can be a name given intentionally in fiction, such as Prince Charming, but it’s very fun when the universe conspires to make for a person with a life that matches the name they were randomly assigned. Tiger Woods is an aptronym, because he’s an amazing golfer who hits with woods. Usain Bolt, the sprinter, has a very apt surname. You can find listicles of more obscure examples of these people online, such as Andrew Drinkwater of the Water Research Centre, and one Dr. Seawright, an eye specialist. But none of these is as good, nor nearly as seasonal, as the one I found. Readers, meet poultry scientist Dr. Tom Tabler.

According to an interview with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Tabler “did not set out to be a researcher. After getting a B.S. in Poultry Science from the University of Arkansas, I became a broiler service technician for a large poultry integrator in southwest Arkansas for five years.” Later, he worked at the edge of the Arctic Circle, and now he publishes research about how to make farming birds cheaper and healthier. This Thanksgiving, for his delightfully apt name and for his work getting toms on our tables, Word of the Week salutes Tom Tabler. Happy holiday, sir.

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