Darwin got fooled too!

April 1, 2012 • 4:15 am

Roused from his bunk to see a “Grampus” (and how could young Charles resist?), Darwin was punk’d 180 years ago today.

From Darwin’s Beagle Diary, 1st April, 1832 (see p. 130 at link), courtesy of The Red Notebook:

April 1st

All hands employed in making April fools. — at midnight almost nearly all the watch below was called up in their shirts; carpenters for a leak: quarter masters that a mast was sprung. — midshipmen to reef top-sails; All turned in to their hammocks again, some growling some laughing. — The hook was much too easily baited for me not to be caught: Sullivan cried out, “Darwin, did you ever see a Grampus: Bear a hand then”. I accordingly rushed out in a transport of Enthusiasm, & was received by a roar of laughter from the whole watch. —

Actually, though, a grampus is a species of dolphin, also known as Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), and the only species in its genus:

Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)

h/t: Matthew Cobb

10 thoughts on “Darwin got fooled too!

  1. It’s my understanding that sailors of Darwin’s time used the term ‘grampus’ to mean orcas. I really doubt they’d be using the Linnean Latin generic epithet for anything.

      1. Grampus is a variant on Krampus, a sort of Central European goat demon associated with Saint Nicholas. I hope Darwin wasn’t expecting to see one of those in April, since they only turn up around Christmas. Really!!!

      2. OED says “The popular name of various delphinoid cetaceans, having a high falcate dorsal fin and a blunt rounded head, and remarkable for the spouting and blowing which accompanies their movements.In popular use, the name seems to be more frequently applied to the formidable ‘killer’ (Orca gladiator). But it is also applied to an inoffensive cetacean resembling this in size and general appearance, but differing in the smaller size and number of the teeth. For the latter, which Cuvier had placed in the genus Delphinus, the English word grampus was adopted by J. E. Gray, 1846, as a modern Latin generic name; the only species certainly determined is G. griseus, sometimes called cow-fish. According to some authorities, the name is also applied to the pilot- or ca’ing whale (Globicephalus).”
        As to the etymology –
        “Early 16th cent. graundepose , apparently an etymologizing alteration (after grand adj.) of the earlier grapeys n. of the same meaning.” Also “< Old French grapois, graspeis (also craspois ) < medieval Latin crassum piscem (crassus fat, piscis fish). "

        As a child I used to get bad chests & my mother would say "you're wheezing like a grampus".

  2. In her little-known “Impressions of Theophrastus Such” (Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1879), George Eliot referred to Darwin as “Grampus,” who was attacked by “Theophrastus” (Samuel Butler). Eliot died shortly thereafter.

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