A beagle named Miss P took home this year’s Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Beagles, of course, are known for their noses–and their barks, which may well have given them their very name.
The Oxford English Dictionary first attests beagle around 1475 as begle. While they can’t quite track down its ultimate origin, etymologists do have a scent: the French bégueule, among other forms documented, joining béer (“to gape”) and gueule (“throat”), from an Old French word for a “noisy person.” The records don’t show the usage applied to the canine, but the meaning may have been transferred from man to mutt, “the beagle being noted for its loud, musical bark,” as Ernest Weekley puts it.
Related to béer is bayer, giving English one sense of bay, which the OED poetically glosses as the “chorus of barking raised by hounds in immediate conflict with a hunted animal.” The bark of bay is an ancient one and probably of imitative origin, like bow-wow. Connected to gueule is gullet, rooted in the Latin gula, “throat.” For this, the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots hunts down *gʷele-, “to swallow,” down whose hatch jowl, glut, and glutton also go. Also possibly related is gullible, from an old sense of gull meaning a “dupe,” who will swallow just about anything–an apt description for many beagles I’ve known.
Now, the HMS Beagle was a very different kind of bark–gag–but Darwin’s legendary ship was the second of eight ships named for this dog breed. And Miss P was only the second beagle to take Westminster’s top prize. It seems this this beagle can lead us down quite the rabbit holes.
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