Two people recently wrote, one from Indianapolis, the other from another state, and told me that crows feeding on carrion in a road are sometimes hit and killed by passing trucks, but they are almost never hit by cars. The reason: Crows feeding in a road have a lookout, and when a car approaches, the lookout calls, “Cah-cah-cah.”
Crows, however, haven’t learned how to say, “Truck.”
Okay, it’s a corny joke. But after reading it, I thought about crow, first just the word. According to the dictionary, to crow is to “utter noises indicative of pleasure; to exult or gloat; to boast.”
Was this common bird named “crow” because it seemed happy, or that it appeared to be exultant or boastful?
Are we supposed to be happy, exultant or boastful when we say we have something to crow about?
Looking next in “Words for Birds” by Edward S. Gruson, I read, “Crow is the bird that crows. The noun and the verb are derivative and onomatopoeic.” Reading on in Gruson, after going to the dictionary again to find out what “onomatopoeic” meant, I read that in Middle English, the bird was a crowe and its call was to crowen.
In Old English, it was “crawe” and “crawen.” In German, it was “krahe,” which means “crow,” according to my German-English dictionary, and krahen.
Everybody must know what a crow looks like. I learned when I was just a boy, about the same time I learned to recognize a robin and a sparrow. Crows weren’t as numerous as robins and sparrows, but they were common and they were everywhere. I saw them in the town where I grew up. I saw them in the country. I saw them in woods. I saw them and I heard them, thought I thought then they said “Caw,” not “Cah.”