Chanel, Hermes, Dom Perignon, Mont Blanc…many sensual delights trace their origins to France. But chickens? Certainly. When “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was becoming a popular carol, chickens from France were a top-of-the line commodity. The farmers of Normandy bred the world’s finest chickens, like the melodically named Faverolle, Houdan, La Fleche, Marans, and Crevecouer breeds. Known for their prolific egg production and docile dispositions, these chickens were much sought after by British poultrymen.
The “three French hens” in the popular carol add diversity to the list of gifts in a couple of ways. First, they are the only domesticated fowl in the offerings. More significantly for us, they are the only items whose country of origin is mentioned. Something, or someone, from a far-flung locale can definitely liven up the mix in a gift package or in a classroom.
Teaching on a campus housed on a military installation offers many advantages, including a virtual guarantee of diversity in our classes. I’ve had students from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Germany, Mexico, Poland, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Chile, and many other countries. The U.S. natives are remarkably well-traveled, too, by virtue of their military connections. The discussions of cultural differences in our class could be featured in National Geographic.
Linguistic diversity often provides help in mastering the staggering vocabulary required for A&P. Indeed, some terms only make sense when we understand their etymology. For example, impulses in our nervous system would creep along at a measly 2 meters/second were it not for a nifty trick called “saltatory conduction,” which increases the speed to a dazzling 100 meters/second—very handy for tasks like thinking up a tie-in for these darn French hens…or typing a blog. Want to see it in action?
Students whose first language is English often struggle to remember the name of this hopscotching phenomenon, invariably trying to relate it to the literal meaning of “salt,” as in NaCl. The term is actually derived from the Latin “saltare,” meaning “to dance, leap, or spring.” That makes a lot more sense. Students who are native Spanish speakers typically recognize this immediately as the familiar Spanish word “saltar” (literally, “to leap over”) and speak up to assist their classmates in remembering the term.
More examples may appear in later posts. For now, I’m just glad that my classes include hens…and roosters…of many nationalities…yet another gift that makes learning a pleasure.
Tomorrow: Those calling…or is it colly?…birds.
- The Third Day of Christmas: French Hens (uoamuseums.wordpress.com)