Xoc’d and Amazed [49]

By Andy Forester, Canada

Until recently nobody has been sure of the etymology of the word shark — the nearest guess until recently being that it comes from schirk which in the Austrian dialect of German is a sturgeon.

It is now widely accepted by specialists in the Maya languages that it comes from the Yucatec or Cholan Maya word for shark xoc (pronounced shok — the X in mesoamerican languages being pronounced as is sh in English).

The word shark entered English in the 16th Century and it seems almost certain that it came to England in 1569 with Sir (then Captain) John Hawkins after he and Drake had been beaten up by the Spanish on the coast of Veracruz, Mexico where Mayan was not the main language but was widely understood. z

Wonderful — I think it’s the only Maya word that has entered common English usage (Nahautl — the language of the Aztecs — has given us tomato, avocado, coyote and a few others).

Drake of course died of (probably) yellow fever and was buried at sea off Portobello.

‘Slung atween the roundshot… in Nombre de Dios bay… An’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe…’ as Sir Henry Newbolt would have it.

Presumably his remains were gobbled up by a xoc and he ended up as a pile of xoc xit…