Monday, August 26, 2013


An online news service reported that owing to a lack of funds, conservation officials will release into the wild some desert tortoises they have nurtured. The account went on to say that experts would determine which of the tortoises “are hearty enough to release.”

Now the primary meaning of hearty is “enthusiastically supportive, jovial, cordial, full of warmth.” How does one gauge the cordiality of a turtle? Perhaps there will be a Congeniality Contest to pick the jolliest of these hard-shell reptiles, or maybe the ones with the biggest smiles or the firmest handshakes will get the nod.

What the writer meant, I think, is hardy, the primary meaning of which is “robust, healthy, capable of withstanding adverse conditions.”

The root of hardy is Middle English hardi, which stems from Old French hardir, “to make hard,” a word of Germanic origin related to the Old English heard meaning “hard.” Hearty derives from heart, whose root is the Old English heorte, referring to the bodily organ, but also, as early as the ninth century, to the source of courage and kind feelings.

To be fair, there is a secondary meaning for hearty—“healthy and robust”— that overlaps with hardy, but prudent usage avoids such ambiguity.

Prudent usage is the furthest thing from the mind of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou.  Madcap recklessness has always been his watchword.

            Myrtle was a turtle
            Who wished she could hurtle,
            But all she could do was creep.
            A hare named Pierre
            Said, “Let’s race to somewhere,”
            And Pierre showed how well he could leap.

            “You just pardon my dust,”
            Myrtle answered, non-plussed--
            And she went out and purchased a Jeep.

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