• reindeer •
rayn-deer • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A deer (Rangifer tarandus) with large racks of fuzzy antlers found in and around the Arctic Circle. In Lapland (Finland) the Saami people live by herding and breeding reindeer for their milk, hide, meat, and other products.
Notes: Like deer itself, this Good Word does not mark its plural: one reindeer, two reindeer, millions of reindeer, though some dictionaries have caved in and allow reindeers.
In Play: Those of us who live outside the Arctic Circle see very few reindeer other than cutouts of them on lawns at Yuletide. In the early 19th century Saint Nicholas was still riding on horseback. That was his traditional means of transportation until 1823 when Clement Moore wrote his famous book, 'Twas the Night before Christmas, which put Santa in a sleigh driven by eight flying reindeer. These eight were joined by a ninth, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, who originated in a marketing campaign by Montgomery Ward department stores in the 40s.
Word History: Today's word was imported from Old Norse hreindyri from hreinn "horn" + dyri "animal". The Swedes today call it a rendjur or just ren, while the Danes say rensdyr, and the Germans, Rentier. In Middle English the word deer meant simply "animal", like its German cousin, Tier, and its slightly more distant cousin, Russian zver', do today. So, when Shakespeare speaks of, "mice and rats, and such small deer" for Edgar's diet in King Lear, he is not upgrading the menu suggested by the first two words.