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Definition: Tadpole

Pronunciation: pol-wig-il

Origin: This word arose in the mid-1400s in England. It brings together the word ‘Poll’, meaning ‘head’ and the word that became ‘wiggle’.

Why this word?

Sometimes, in the mysterious world of language selection, we lose something. The word ‘Tadpole’ combines the word ‘tad’, referring to a ‘toad’, and ‘pole’, referring to ‘poll’, or ‘head’. Thus, ‘tadpole’ means ‘toad head’. Well and good, you might think … until, that is, you meet polwygle – the ‘wiggle head’. Why the English language decided to go with ‘Toad head’ rather than ‘wiggle head’ is beyond me and is certainly something of a ‘polscratten’…

 How to use the word polwygle in a sentence?

 Polwygle evolved into ‘Polwigge’ and, from there, into ‘polliwog’. It had, incidentally, lived side-by-side with the word ‘Tadpole’ for much of its existence (‘tadpole’ dating from the 1300s). It only fell out of use in the 20th century, when the language decided that ‘Toad-head’ was a less wiggly choice. But maybe it’s time to revive it – and time to allow it to undergo its latest evolutionary phase. Rather than suggest people use polwygle, why not use ‘Wigglehead’?

Think of it. A be-freckled son calls his father to the pond in summer to see a cloud of tadpoles. The father looks in and declares “Wow – there sure are a lot of wiggle heads in there!”.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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