So, what’s with the kangaroos?


‘Curious Kagaroos’ by Bilby Summerhill on Flickr

This is a blog about words, language, grammar, basic linguistics and everything in between. I hope it will be informative, entertaining and at times, perilously close to interesting. You may well be aware of the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention”. Frank Zappa aside, I needed a name for my blog and all the good ones involving ‘words’ or ‘language’ were taken. I really didn’t fancy a portmanteau word and having seen some of the suggestions auto-generated by a computer, I don’t think we need to worry about the robots taking over any time soon. I definitely didn’t want a supposedly hip name  like ‘Wordr’ or ‘Grammr’ so I just ended up thinking “Meh. I don’t know.” From this, the vague memory of an apocryphal story about kangaroos came to me and, if you will indulge me, I’ll explain it to you by way of an introduction to what I intend to do in the coming weeks, months and possibly years.

In 1770, Lieutenant James Cook’s HMS Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Due to the nature of the damage sustained, it took Cook and his crew some 7 weeks to get the ship in a fit state to continue homeward to England. Being explorers, Cook and the other officers made a thorough study of the people, animals and language they encountered. Upon encountering their first kangaroo, Cook and scientist Sir Joseph Banks asked some of the locals what it was. The story goes that they saw what he was pointing at but simply said “kangaroo”, which allegedly meant “I don’t understand”.

Sadly, a good many of these stories turn out to be untrue, or simply repeated because they sound good. The local Aboriginal tribe, the Guugu Yimithirr, still retain the word gangurru, which they use to describe a species of large black kangaroo, largely unseen these days. Cook, Banks and the botanical artist, Sydney Parkinson, all kept a comprehensive log of the language and a very interesting comparison between what he calls “Cook’s Guugu Yimithirr Word List” and the modern variety is set out by John B Haviland of Harvard University, writing in the University of Sydney’s Oceania journal. Indeed, it is he who successfully debunks the story, spoiling the fun for everyone.

Thanks to the power of the internet, a copy of this article can be found here:

So, there it is. The Kangaroo Myth is born. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that it isn’t a blog in its own right but attached to the web site of my business, Readright. Some might say it’s a cynical and blatant attempt to get yet more traffic for my multi-million euro business empire – a sentiment that would be at best half right. I hope I can count on your support and look forward to interacting in a textual manner with you all.

If you are minded, why not follow me on Twitter, and sign up for notifications? There will be a Facebook page too but I have no idea what I’ll do with it yet. Why not like it anyway when it turns up and it’ll be a surprise for us all?


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