The Majestic Elk

Some information about this beautiful creature (source Wikipedia).

As you’ll see from the text below confusingly, the word “elk” is used in North America to refer to a different animal, Cervus canadensis, which is also called by the Algonkian indigenous name, “wapiti”.

Alces alces is called a “moose” in North American English, but an “elk” in British English;[2] its scientific name comes from its name in Latin. The word “elk” in North American English refers to a completely different species of deer, the Cervus canadensis, also called the wapiti. A mature male moose is called a bull, a mature female a cow, and an immature moose of either sex a calf.

The word “elk” originated in Proto-Germanic, from which Old English evolved and has cognates in other Indo-European languages, e.g. elg in Danish/Norwegian; älg in Swedish; alnis in Latvian; Elch in German; and łoś in Polish (Latin alcē or alcēs and Ancient Greek ἄλκη álkē are probably Germanic loanwords).[3] In the continental-European languages, these forms of the word “elk” almost always refer to the Alces alces.

The word “moose” had first entered English by 1606[4] and is borrowed from the Algonquian languages (compare the Narragansett moos and Eastern Abenaki mos; according to early sources, these were likely derived from moosu, meaning “he strips off”),[5] and possibly involved forms from multiple languages mutually reinforcing one another. The Proto-Algonquian form was *mo·swa.[6] The fact that the word was a loanword borrowed after Middle English’s Great Vowel Shift was determinative in its highly irregular plural form, which is also moose (as in, “Nine angry moose are chasing me right now”).[7]

The moose became extinct in Britain during the Bronze Age, long before the European arrival in the Americas. The youngest bones were found in Scotland and are roughly 3,900 years old.[8] The word “elk” remained in usage because of its existence in continental Europe but, without any living animals around to serve as a reference, the meaning became rather vague to most speakers of English, who used “elk” to refer to “large deer” in general.[9] Dictionaries of the 18th century simply described “elk” as a deer that was “as large as a horse”.[10]

Confusingly, the word “elk” is used in North America to refer to a different animal, Cervus canadensis, which is also called by the Algonkian indigenous name, “wapiti”. The British began colonizing America in the 17th century, and found two common species of deer for which they had no names. The wapiti appeared very similar to the red deer of Europe (which itself was almost extinct in Southern Britain) although it was much larger and was not red.[9] The moose was a rather strange-looking deer to the colonists, and they often adopted local names for both. In the early days of American colonization, the wapiti was often called a grey moose and the moose was often called a black moose, but early accounts of the animals varied wildly, adding to the confusion.[11]

The wapiti is superficially very similar to the red deer of central and western Europe, although it is distinctly different behaviorally and genetically. Early European explorers in North America, particularly in Virginia where there were no moose, called the wapiti “elk” because of its size and resemblance to familiar-looking deer like the red deer.[12] The moose resembled the “German elk” (the moose of continental Europe), which was less familiar to the British colonists. For a long time neither species had an official name, but were called a variety of things. Eventually, in North America the wapiti became known as an elk while the moose retained its Anglicized Native-American name.[12] In 1736, Samuel Dale wrote to the Royal Society of Great Britain:

The common light-grey moose, called by the Indians, Wampoose, and the large or black-moose, which is the beast whose horns I herewith present. As to the grey moose, I take it to be no larger than what Mr. John Clayton, in his account of the Virginia Quadrupeds, calls the Elke … was in all respects like those of our red-deer or stags, only larger… The black moose is (by all that have hitherto writ of it) accounted a very large creature…. The stag, buck, or male of this kind has a palmed horn, not like that of our common or fallow-deer, but the palm is much longer, and more like that of the German elke. [13]

Icy Waters

I captured this aerial footage a few days ago here in Swedish Lapland. It’s a truly magical place, so serene, so magical. Hope that you enjoy watching.

Best wishes,

Andy