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17 May 2010

Monday's word - Swoose

Next time your heroine loses her temper with the ill tempered hero, she might call him a swoose!

According to Michael Quinion* in his 'Worldwide Words'  'when an ill-tempered husband rouses his wife    to the point of retaliation, she gives vent to her   feelings in the culminating insult: "You swoose!"     [Wisconsin State Journal, 5 Sep. 1920.]'   So what on Earth is a swoose? I hear you ask.  Michael describes it thus:

" A bird prodigy of evil and hybrid character is the   despair of a Norfolk farmer. It rejoices in the name of    the "swoose", a portmanteau word indicating its origin,    for its father was a swan and its mother a goose. This    ill-assorted pair had three children - three "sweese".    [Daily Mail, 13 July 1920.]

It wasn't the earliest mention of this curious hybrid, the first having been in the Harrison Times of Arkansas in 1911, though it,too, referred to a bird accidentally bred in Norfolk. The name musthave been fairly widely known by 1920, since a horse named Swoosewas racing then. The Daily Mail mentioned the birds several timesduring that year, reporting that the young sweese were terrorising the farmyard and killing ducks. "Of late," the paper noted, "theircharacter has been relapsing into such savagery as may prove theirruin." News of the birds spread widely. If we are to believe thisAmerican report, their name briefly became part of the vernacular:

 A very few other sweese appeared in the 1920s and 1930s as crosses between various breeds of goose and swan that were kept together onfarms. The word reached the hit parade in 1941 when Alexander the Swoose, a song performed by the Kay Kyser band, reached number 3 in the charts.

This led directly to the most famous swoose, a B-17 bomber that American forces based in Australia had created by cannibalisingother aircraft and nicknamed the Swoose because of its hybrid character. It was piloted by Frank Kurtz, who in 1944 named his daughter after the plane. Swoosie Kurtz has become a well-known actress. She was once asked whether she had thought of changing hername: "Change it to what - Tiffany? It's been an advantage. It's unforgettable. I'm the only one."

So no, it's probably not a good idea to name your next heroine Swoosie, but it does make me wonder what a fantasy romance novel might be like that had a goose and a swan as its main characters!

 This article is reproduced with permission from:
*World Wide Words  - copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org/