chanticleer (n.)

English is a language with an incredibly large pool of other languages adding to its lexicon. Probably the more languages you speak the more obvious the etymological analogies become. If you speak French this week’s word will be no trouble for you to figure out. Henry David Thoreau writes in his Walden:

As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.” H. D. Thoreau, Walden, and Civil Disobedience, New York et al. 1986, p. 128.

Obviously, it is a compound word. Both parts are still regular English words: to chant is to sing. And if your voice has the quality of clarity it is clear. For those who have mastered the French tongue it is evident that chant is related to chanter.

And the French origin tells us that we will not encounter the word chanticleer any time before the French arrive in England. They did so on a large scale after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

I guess, most French related words in English originate from the four or five centuries after that.

What, then, is a chanticleer? It is not a “clear song” as my explanations earlier suggest but it describes a rather loud singer (cler, apparently meaning loud in Old French) in the morning.

If not an “ode to dejection” (see above), Thoreau did write an ode to early rising. And what better mascot for the early riser than the rooster, the cockerel, singing his morning song!

Imagine Thoreau as the chanticleer, trying to wake is neighbours – trying to wake them up to themselves.

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