It’s 4 AM where I am, and I’m awake and definitely not getting back to sleep, and for the first time in several weeks I have no looming deadlines, so let’s do the obvious thing: talk about French vocabulary related to walruses.
le morse: walrus
First of all: what are they? From Wikipédia:
- le mammifère: mammal.
- le représentant/la représentante: representative.
Marine mammals (mammifères marins) are anatomically unusual for a number of reasons, one of which is their teeth: in general, they tend to be homodonts, meaning that their teeth are all of the same kind. Walruses have their tusks, which are very different from the rest, but the rest of their teeth are pretty much undifferentiated. Here’s a photo of a walrus mandible–note that the teeth are all pretty similar:
Here’s a nice in-your-face photo of the dentition of a more familiar marine mammal, the dolphin–note that they’re all the same:
…and another marine mammal, the orca or killer whale (go ahead and try to find a better picture than this of orca teeth without spending 15 minutes plowing through memorabilia of the movie Jaws–go ahead, I dare you…). Like the dolphin, this fellow is a total homodont–all of his teeth are the same:
…and compare those with the teeth of some non-marine mammals. Your garden-variety mammal is a heterodont, and has up to four kinds of specialized teeth: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars.
So, you compare a morse to your typical mammifère marin and they look well-endowed in the tooth variety department, but compare ’em to a primate or a feline and they look pretty impoverished. And what are those tusks (défenses) for?
On a longtemps supposé que ces défenses étaient utilisées pour déterrer les proies des fonds marins. Mais l’étude de l’abrasion des défenses indique que celles-ci traînent simplement dans les sédiments lorsque le bord supérieur du museau est utilisé pour creuser, et qu’elles ne s’usent alors que dans leur partie supérieure28. Les individus aux défenses cassées peuvent donc continuer à s’alimenter23.
- déterrer: to extract, unearth, dig up; to exhume.
- le fond marin: seafloor.
- traîner: a verb that never fails to fuck me up… I think that in this case it’s the sense of dragging (Je traîne la table dans la pièce voisine, WordReference.com) or of hanging down to a lower level (Les rideaux traînent sur le sol de la salle, WordReference.com). I have a lot of trouble with traîner, which I associate always and only with what you should not do when there are zombies around (Traînez pas, y’a des zombies partout (sorry if the French is wrong–I just made that up).).
- le sédiment: …just ’cause I didn’t know about the accent, nor the gender.
- creuser: another one of those verbs that has a thousand senses. I think that this is the one that WordReference gives as “to dig,” although I think that it might be closer to to furrow. Do you creuser a hole, or something longer in one direction than the other, like a sillon, or a creux, or a fossé? Native speakers?
- s’user: …because this verb is so confusing for us poor anglophones: it means to get worn out, worn down, worn thin.
- s’alimenter: …just ’cause it’s such a pretty verb, and I wanna remind myself to use it.
…and with that, it’s 5:20 AM, and my sleep deprivation is nearing psychosis-level, and I’m definitely not getting back to sleep, and my sleep deprivation is nearing psychosis-level, and I couldn’t get the pictures of walrus-calf teeth to upload (they have deciduous (“milk”) teeth, which makes for a very confusing picture, and how the fuck do you say “milk teeth” in French?), and my sleep deprivation is nearing psychosis-level, and we haven’t even gotten around to the walrus’s wrist structure, and my sleep deprivation is nearing psychosis-level, and je laisse à part les fièvres et les pleurésies, et…