In Groundhog vs. Shadow, Punxsutawney Phil easily walked to victory: his shadow didn’t even show up for his wintry wrangling with the woodchuck earlier this week.
But we’ve got a bigger animal fight ahead.
No, I’m not talking about Donkey vs. Elephant – or, at this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, Donkey vs. Donkey and Elephant vs. Elephant. I’m talking about that other great American mascot match: the Denver Broncos vs. the Carolina Panthers.
Yes, Super Bowl 50 is this Sunday, so let’s see how bronco and panther stack up against each other – etymologically speaking.
Bronco has been bucking in English since the mid-1800s. Cowboys in the now American Southwest saddled this word from the Mexican Spanish bronco, whose meaning of “rough” or “wild” aptly characterizes this “untamed or half-tamed horse.”
OK, Denver is starting aggressively with some big pass plays, the commentators observe.
Etymologists also note this bronco can describe “rough” wood and, as a noun, refer to “a knot in wood.”
The receivers just couldn’t connect. It’s 3 and out. The Broncos kick.
We aren’t fully sure of the origin of bronco from here, but some suggest Spanish borrowed the word from the Vulgar Latin, *bruncus, meaning “projecting” like a sharp point.
Interception! The Broncos have the ball back.
This *bruncus may blend broccus (“projecting”) and truncus (“trunk of a tree”). The former is related to broach, the latter trunk.
And Denver converts the interception into a field goal.
Panther has long been stalking English. It appears in Old English, loaned from Latin: panthēra, originally some kind of spotted big cat like the leopard. Panther was borrowed again in Middle English, this time from French, panthere, though from the same Latin jungle.
Carolina opens conservatively with a few rush plays.
Now, the Latin derives from the Greek, πάνθηρ (panther), which ancient philologists claimed joins pan (παν-, “all”) and ther (θήρ, “wild beast”). “All beast”? Yes, the panther was once fancied as a composite of many wild animals, a “fabulous hybrid of a lion and a pard,” as the Oxford English Dictionary explains.
Cam Newtown goes long…and it’s first and goal for Carolina!
This mythical panther also “exhaled sweet breath,” the OED continues.
Now a big third and goal here – Carolina has fumbled the ball at the 2 yard line!
But the panther’s sweet breath, emanating whenever it roared, attracts all animals cave. Except for its nemesis, the dragon.
The officials rule Carolina has recovered the football.
As fascinating as this “all beast” etymology may be, it’s as fanciful as the creature it conjures up. Scholars believe Greek borrowed its panther from a language in Asia Minor. Many point to the Sanskrit puṇḍárīkas, “tiger” (though one of Skeat’s sources suggests “elephant”). Earnest Klein adds that the Sanskrit literally means “the yellowish (animal),” from a base word meaning “whitish yellow.”
Carolina kicks it in for 3.
If the etymology of bronco and panther is any measure, it should be a fun Super Bowl. Perhaps Carolina will prove to be bronco-busters, breaking in those untamed horses. Or maybe Denver will make Carolina drink panther piss (or juice or sweat), which is some potent hooch indeed.
I, for one, will be getting ready for a skirmish of my own: Chip vs. Guacamole. And you can gear up with my old post on the origin of Super Bowl.