Piping Plover Lovers
What is the right way to pronounce "plover"? Does it rhyme with "over," or does it rhyme with "lover?" I delved deeply into the issue -- that is, I sent an e-mail to someone, and he forwarded it to someone else -- and I'll get to the results of my inquiry in a minute. But back to the news…
Piping plovers of course are protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which means they will no doubt soon be extinct if Representative Richard Pombo and his reactionary compatriots have their way. In 2005, 34 pairs of piping plovers in Connecticut fledged 55 young; that was six fewer pairs, but one more fledgling, than in 2004 (in West Haven, four pairs fledged six young). To me that seems like treading water, but the DEP termed it a success so I’ll give it to them.
Here’s what Deputy Commissioner David Leff said in a press release:
"The consistent number of piping plover chicks fledged every nesting season since 1986 is encouraging and reflects the success of aggressive management by the DEP," added Leff. "Wildlife Division biologists use specific and carefully researched procedures to protect nesting plovers and terns." Initially, beaches designated as breeding grounds are fenced off with string to discourage people and dogs from disturbing birds in the area. Educational signs, as well as "Keep Away" and "No Dogs" signs, also are posted around these areas. When individual plover nests are located, a wire "exclosure," with a top net, is erected around each nest. The exclosure is designed to keep dogs, house cats, skunks, raccoons, weasels, foxes, and avian predators from reaching the eggs.
But neither Leff nor anyone else addressed the pronunciation question -- pluvver or plohver. So I asked an ornithologist.
Patrick Comins, the director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut, prefers what I consider the traditional plohver pronunciation:
Both ways are proper as far as I can tell. I pronounce it like 'over.’ For some reason, people more often tend to say it like 'lover' with the Piping Plover and 'over' with some of the other plovers.
His explanation leads one to believe that those who find it necessary to use, for example, “semipalmated plover” in a sentence, pronounce it to rhyme with "over." (This prompts a couple of questions I'm not prepared to tackle: What exactly does “semipalmated” mean and are we to infer that somewhere there are “palmated” plovers? And why do bird people think the name of a bird is a proper noun – Piping Plover – and therefore worthy of uppercase letters?). Perhaps “piping pluvver” is simply easier to say than “piping plohver,” and it came to be an accepted pronunciation in the same way that “Acadian” became “Cajun.” Or maybe not.
Patrick forwarded my inquiry to Scott Hecker, in Massachusetts. Scott is the director of coastal bird conservation for the National Audubon Society. He couldn't tell me which was correct, but he did have examples of how the different pronunciations pop up in different contexts. In this case, the context was a classic use-conflict between those who want to protect piping plovers and those who think the proper uses of publicly-owned beaches include tearing around in ATVs.
After attending a crowded meeting at Plymouth Town Hall where a hundred off-road-vehicle drivers began singing/chanting a song about running over Piping Plovers to the tune "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leafed Clover" as "I’m Running Over a Piping Plover," I decided it was best to describe myself as a "plover lover.” Just when I was comfortable with that, I heard a song on the local radio called "50 Ways to Kill a Plover," to Paul Simon's tune "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Oh well. I believe the Brits use the latter only.
This of course is pretty funny, until you realize that there’s actually a debate about whether it's OK to let vehicles run over birds. It becomes even less funny when you realize that if the radicals in the House get their way, we won't even be having that debate, and the question of whether it rhymes with "over" or "lover" will be moot, and about as relevant as the question of what rhymes with “dodo.”