Thursday, June 05, 2008



Sara Stein, Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), pp. 132-133:
The literature on mouth-to-mouth recycling is necessarily scatological: all animals suffer a degree of indigestion, and what is waste to one is food to others. At first the thought of caprophagy is repelling, but weighing the services of feces eaters against a landscape deep in dog doo, one is moved to benediction of the sanitation crew. The Australian range disaster occurred when cattle were imported without the dung beetles that customarily roll balls of cow manure into their underground chambers to feed their larvae. Left whole and baking in the sun, the cow pats dried to a crust that killed the grass and stayed undecayed sometimes for a decade. The problem was solved by introducing African dung beetles, which could cope with both wet pats and dry weather.
Caprophagy is obviously a mistake. There is a rare Greek word καπροφάγος (kaprophágos), defined by Liddell-Scott-Jones as "eating boar's flesh, epith. of Artemis at Samos." But what the context demands here is coprophagy, from Greek κοπροφάγος (koprophágos = eating dung), itself from κόπρος (kópros = dung) and φαγεῖν (phageîn, infinitive of ἔφαγον, used as 2nd aorist of ἐσθίω, meaning to eat).

Sara Stein is not alone in making this mistake. Google Book Search reveals nine examples of caprophagy from printed materials, and Google has over two hundred examples. You can also find caprophagous on the Web and in books, but it is likewise a mistake for coprophagous.

On a related note, David Quammen, The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (1988; rpt. New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 203, has a tongue-in-cheek (dung-in-cheek?) adaptation of the Biblical book of Exodus, chapters 15-16:
And behold, in those days the children of Israel had taken their journey into the desert, and they were hungry and they were thirsty and they were sorely vexed, and so they murmured against Moses, saying, What is this nonsense? Moses, we are fixing to die out here and shrivel away like dried chilies if you don't do something, they said. So Moses cried unto the Lord and the Lord showed him a sweet spring where it flowed out of the rock. Fine, but what about some food? said the children of Israel. So the Lord sent overnight a great host of scale insects of the species Trabutina mannipara and Najacoccus serpentinus, this is true fact, and these insects fed upon the desert tamarisk bushes and then they shat upon the ground; a fine white layer of nutritious excrement, tiny granules that lay over the ground like hoar frost, did they shit. And when the children of Israel saw this stuff, they called it manna, and they did nourish themselves upon it for forty years.
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