Posts Tagged ‘birds’

One of my favorite classic guitar solos from the 70’s has to be Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption from the 1978 eponymous first album Van Halen. It’s classic status was confirmed in 2009 when it was included as one of the tracks on the Guitar Hero: Van Halen video game, allowing a whole new generation of air guitarists to pretend to be Eddie. And just a year earlier, Guitar Magazine named it the 2nd greatest guitar solo of all time, bested only by Jimmy Page’s Stairway to Heaven.

In the same year that the song Eruption was released, the UK R&B band called Eruption has their biggest hit with the song, I Can’t Stand the Rain, which reached #5 in the UK charts and #18 on the US Billboard charts.

An eruption is characterized by some type of “breaking forth,” and is most often used in reference to a volcanic eruption, which is “the ejection of solid or liquid matter by a volcano, of hot water from a geyser, etc.” (OED).

(C) gnuckx under Creative Commons

In contrast, the word irruption is the opposite and defined by the OED as;

The action of bursting or breaking in; a violent entry, inroad, incursion, or invasion, esp. of a hostile force or tribe.

The inward motion as opposed to the outward is what makes the difference between the words, although they are both pronounced the same.

The first appearance in print of the word is in Heinrich Bullinger’s 1577 page turner, Fiftie godlie and learned sermons, in the quote;

In that hurlie burlie and irruption made by the barbarous people.

It can be traced back to the Latin irruptionem, a noun of action derived from the verb irrumpere, which means “to break into,” and it can be furthered analyzed as the prefix ir– meaning “into” and rumpere, “to break.” Contrast this with eruption, which has the same base verb, rumpere, but the prefix e– means “out.”

The Latin rumpere is the base of a number of other English words, including abrupt (ab– prefix meaning “off,”‘ so “to break off”), route (a way or a course, from the Latin phrase via rupta or “broken way”), and rupture (a break or a tear).

By the 20th century, the word had taken on a special meaning in relation to zoology, namely to refer to;

An abrupt local increase in the numbers of a species of animals.

Thus, in A.L. Thompson’s 1936 book entitled Bird Migration, we see;

Apart from all the categories of annual movements, there are movements which occur at irregular intervals in the form of invasions or irruptions… In the spring of certain years the birds have ‘irrupted’ in large numbers.

It’s in the birding world that irruption seems to be used most frequently. However, the decline in its general usage seems to have been started in the mid 1800’s and even the Corpus of Contemporary American English only offers 27 instances between 1990 and 2012.

History of the word irruption

“Irruption” 1810-2009

As a final comment, it’s worth mentioning that even Mark Twain got the words eruption and irruption mixed up. In Life on the Mississippi (1883) he used the phrase, “A firmament-obliterating irruption of profanity,” and in the context, it would seem that he meant an “eruption of profanity.”

Happens to the best of ’em, I guess.

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So the big news in the blogosphere over the past few days has been the mysterious deaths of thousands of birds in Arkansas. The headline Dead Birds Fall From The Sky makes you want to say, “Well, what else would they do?” Estimates of precisely how many have shuffled off their mortal coils seem to run from about 1000 to 5000 and all points in-between. Until some hapless bugger has to go round collecting and tagging the fallen fledglings it seems we have to rely on eye-witness estimates from people who are typically not used to estimating what constitutes a “dead flock.”

But just like a London omnibus, you wait for years to see a road strewn with avian carcasses and then along comes two at once! With the Arkansas avians not yet counted, another 500 birds have been found dead in Louisiana, close to the False River Regional Airport. Really? Close to airplanes? You mean those large, 3000 ton pieces of metal that fly hundreds of miles per hour, causing huge wakes that can suck up, say, birds? Well no shit, Sherlock!

The Arkansas victims appear to have suffered severe trauma, according to specialists, which resulted in internal bleeding and ultimately death. Non-specialists – that is, conspiracy theorists, religious nutcases, paranoid schizophrenics armed with a blog site, and Fox News viewers – prefer to accept the evidence of their own minds and opt for the culprits being any one of the following; God, Mayans, UFOs, Men in Black, government secret testing, phosgene gas, or the magneto-acoustic-gravity-wavelet weapon.

The one word that crops up in almost all the versions of this story is mystery. And the cause of the birds’ deaths is currently as mysterious as the time at which the next bus will arrive. Both are, as the OED explains, “something inexplicable or beyond human comprehension.”

Curiously, some people take that notion of being “inexplicable” as carte-blanche for making up an explanation that is even more inexplicable than the original event! For them, the notion that, for example, the birds were caught in high velocity storm winds seems so improbable that they prefer to accept that they ran into an invisible UFO. Actually, those folks tend to make it sound more scientific by using the word “cloaked” to describe the UFO, and then go on to use a glut of pseudo-scientific babble to “explain” how cloaking works. And hey, if it works for the Klingon Birds of Prey spaceships, it must be true.

In Ancient Greece, the word μυστήριον is used to describe secret religious ceremonies, the most famous of which is probably those held at Eleusis, some 15 miles northwest of Athens, in honor of the goddess Demeter. Demeter was associated with fertility and harvest, so the Eleusinian Mysteries seem to have been aimed at ensuring that farmers would have a good growing season.

Many years after the mysteries of Ancient Greece  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began writing about the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In the Sign of Four, Holmes says, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” For solving mysteries, this would seem to be a very useful rule of thumb. Unfortunately, conspiracy theorists have reworked this along the lines of, “when you have eliminates the improbable, whatever remains, no matter how impossible, must be the truth.” So in the current bird-death mystery, one theory put forward was that the birds had been damaged during a New Year’s firework display, which is at least a testable hypothesis. However, because it seems very improbable that 5000 birds could be affected by a few fireworks, lots of commentators have eliminated the improbable and taken this as proof for God, Mayans, UFOs, Men in Black, government secret testing, phosgene gas, and the magneto-acoustic-gravity-wavelet weapon.

It is, of course, probable that no answer will be found. Mysteries happen every day and it’s only because of the way in which the global media can act as a focusing lens for a single incident that we hear about them. Out of the billions of slices of toast made in a month, what are the chances that ONE of them might have a burn pattern that looks a little like the virgin Mary? And if just ONE person gets a picture of this, how easy is it to post this to the world?

Doubtless in a week or so, there will be an official response that provides a reasonable theory as to why, like the ball in Times Square, the birds dropped over the New Year. But equally, those who have already made their minds up will find ways to ignore it and shore up their present erroneous theory. After all, if everybody loves a mystery, then no-one will like a spoil-sport who ruins it.

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