Excavating Bat Cave Etymology

Well, I went off on a tangent taking about the bat- related to beating and battering and never did give an account of the flapping and fluttering bat that “Batman” asked me about. Here’s what the costumed character wanted to know.

“Listen, Lexie,” he said, his blue eyes boring through the slits of his mask, “The pavement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is swarming with fake Caped Crusaders. People have got to know that I’m the real Batman. It could mean much more than the crummy tips I get for posing with all those little Tylers and Taylors and their parents. It could mean my big break.”

“How so?”

200px-Bat_shadow_black.svg“Among all those tourists from Yellow Knife and Yakima there are producers, casting directors. I’ve got to show them that I’m completely immersed in the character, I mean that I am Batman.”

“Where do I come in?”

“You can give me deep background, the etymological scoop on bat and everything batty: cave, stalactite, stalagmite and…” he paused, “guano.”


Chinese Theater, Carlsbad Caverns, NPS Photo by Peter Jones 

Everything batty. That about said it.

“Okay, here we go. In Middle English the flying mammal was called a bakke, which is apparently of Scandinavia origin. Around 1575 that word was replaced with bat, probably influenced by Latin blatta, sometimes rendered as batta in Medieval Latin.

“Got it. What about cave?”

“Cave comes from French cave, which is from Latin cava, plural of cavum a hollow (place), neuter of cavus hollow.”

“Would that be related to cavern, concave, cavity and excavate?”

I nodded.

“I hate to admit this,” the Caped One said, “but I get stalactites and stalagmites mixed up.”

“Stalactites cling tight to the roof of the cave; stalagmites might reach the roof. The icicle-like stalactite formed of calcium salts deposited by dripping water takes its name from modern Latin stalactites, from Greek stalaktos ‘dripping,’ based on stalassein ‘to drip.’ Stalagmites are also formed by drops —  ones that build up on the floor of the cave. Its etymology also goes back to stalassein, but instead of stalaktos  ‘dripping,it came through stalagma, Greek for ‘a drop.’

[to be continued]

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One Response to Excavating Bat Cave Etymology

  1. Pingback: Lexie Reemerges from the Etymological Underground | Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper

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