Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Efts

I met some efts the other day. They're young newts, at that stage in life when they look like large, slim tadpoles, but with feathery external gills as well as little fore and hind legs. We came across them in the local nature reserve, where a conservationist was doing some pond dipping, netting a wonderful array of wriggly little aquatic creatures, including freshwater shrimps, tiny fish, damsel fly nymphs, leeches (which don't wriggle but have their own, rather sinister way of moving) – and, yes, efts. Apparently this is the accepted zoological term for larval newts, though it used to be what everybody called adult newts, until the word started to die out some time in the 19th century. I was quite sure it occurred in Shakespeare (Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth?), but no, it seems not. One dictionary cites the use of 'eft' in the unlikely setting of A Spot of Ink (Une Tache d'Encre), the autobiography of the early 20th-century French novelist René Bazin (presumably in translation) –
'From time to time out of the depths of those submerged thickets an eft darts up.'
A rather lovely sentence, I think.

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