Monday, December 29, 2014

Of baby ostriches and shite pokes

This vintage postcard, published by Edward H. Mitchell of San Francisco, California, features adorable baby ostriches (from the historic Cawston Ostrich Farm) on the front and an intriguing message from H.A.M. on the back:
"I am sending Ostrich on this card and a Shite Poke on the other one."
Maybe some of you knew instantly what a Shite Poke was. I did not. I had to look it up. Turns out, it's a slightly vulgar synonym for heron.

Herons have had a lot of different names:
  • Shite poke, shitepoke or shite-poke
  • Shikepoke
  • Shypoke
  • Shiterow
  • Shederow
  • Shiteheron
  • Heronshaw
  • Handsaw


To further cloud the issue, H.L. Mencken writes the following in The American Language:
"The shite-poke is not imaginary. It is the common green heron, Butorides virescens. Shite-poke is traced by the DAE to 1832. Early alternative names were poke, and skouk, both recorded in 1794, and chalk-line and fly-up-the-creek, both recorded in 1844. One of the authorities cited by the DAE says the shite-poke was borrowed from the Dutch schyte-poke. It is legendary throughout the shite-poke's territory that it lives on excrement."

For even more on shite-pokes/herons:

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