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19 July 2010

Monday's word - swanupping

I love swans.  Such beautiful, graceful birds, and rather romantic.  Apart from the lovely heartshaped effect the portray when they touch beaks, they mate for life.  As I said, romantic birds.  So I was fascinated by this article on swanupping by *Michael Quinion in his 'World Wide Words' site this week.

"It was reported in the Washington Post this week that the Queen is considering how to reduce the cost of running the British monarchy, one suggestion being to lay off her official Swan Marker. (The British media haven't mentioned this; perhaps the idea of the Queen having one in the first place to get rid of doesn't seem so strange to them as it does to Americans.)

Next week will see that official taking part - perhaps for the last time - in an annual ceremony on a seventy-mile stretch of the River Thames upstream from London: swan-upping. It's not as rude as it sounds: it's an annual census in which the mute swans and their cygnets are "upped"  - taken up from the river to be inspected and marked.

The census - it takes five days - is operated by the Swan Markerand the Swan Uppers of two of the ancient trade guilds of London,the Vintners' and Dyers' livery companies. The census is said todate from the twelfth century, at a time when the sovereign claimedownership of all swans (they were valuable birds that were servedup at banquets and feasts).
These days, royal ownership is claimed only on the Thames and some tributaries and - you may be pleased to learn - the Queen doesn't actually eat any of her swans. The birds used to be tagged by nicks on their beaks - which is why the Swan Marker has that name - but these days are ringed on their legs."

So while it may not make much difference to the welfare of swans, I can't help feeling the loss of our 'swanuppers' would be a further erosion of our British heritage.  I hope her Majesty will find another way of cutting costs.

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewds.