Monday, April 25, 2011

Woodchucks don't chuck wood

"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!"
Since my post questioning whether clams are really happy seems to garner the most traffic on my blog, I decided to tackle another burning question: If woodchuck's don't really chuck wood, why are they called woodchucks? I'm not even going to delve into the hypothetical question of how much wood they could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. That's just stupid.

First of all, a woodchuck is really just a groundhog. Groundhogs are most famous for Groundhog Day, a day (February 2)  when the animal is supposed to wake up after hibernating all winter, either see its shadow and run back into its den signalling six more weeks of winter, or not see its shadow and signal the beginning spring. I'm sensing there is not a great deal of science involved in this method of predicting the beginning of spring.

Groundhogs are not really hogs any more than they are chuckers of wood. They are more closely related to a squirrel than a hog, so we are dealing with an animal that is mired in misconception and therefore constantly dealing with identity crisis issues. This could explain why groundhogs are pretty aggressive creatures. Wikipedia states, that according to Doug Schwartz, the groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo, "They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. [Their] natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."

The most surprising thing I find about that is not that groundhogs are aggressive but that there is such a thing as a groundhog trainer. I imagine it is pretty much a niche market, but who am I to judge.

But back to the question of woodchucks and wood. If we take the name literally, it would mean someone or something that "chucks" or tosses wood randomly. When I was in junior high school and played basketball (extremely poorly BTW), we used to call guys who just chucked the ball at the basket every time they got it, "chuckers." This has nothing whatsoever to do with woodchucks, because I am digressing.

The name woodchuck actually comes from another misunderstanding of the Algonquian (a Native American dialect) word for the animals: wuchak. I'm sure that the Native American's were dutifully puzzled and the wuchak's equally annoyed when early settlers captured the animals and turned them lose on a newly chopped pile of wood thinking they were going to stack it.

History is so disappointing when you lift up the curtain and see who really is running Oz.

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