by Kenneth Lyen
The newspaper of 10 July 2004 announced that the Vietnam Government had culled 8000 chicken because some of the fowl had contracted bird flu. Immediately I thought what a euphemistic way of saying that they killed poultry. I thought that the word "cull" was a corruption of the word "kill". It is therefore to my surprise to discover that this is not the case.
Now, I must confess that we writers (referring to yours truly), have a somewhat distorted view of life. First what are the facts? The World Health Organisation reported that so far 100 million chicken have been culled due to Asian influenza, and to date only 22 humans have succumbed to bird flu. Instead of discussing the morality of pre-emptive mass slaughter of innocent chicken to save a rather undeserving humanity, I am focusing on the etymology of the words used to carry out this avian holocaust. So sue me.
Used as a verb, "to cull" is "to remove rejected members or parts from", for example, a herd. It also has a meaning of "to pick out, gather, or collect". The word is derived from the Latin, "colligere" which means to "gather together." Tennyson used the word with this meaning in a poem: "Whitest honey in fairy gardens culled."
When "cull" was first used in the English language around 1330, it meant to "put through a strainer." It is this connotation which evolved into its more nefarious meaning. So when Dryden used the word in his poem, it had already attracted this more sinister meaning: "From his herd he culls, For slaughter, from the fairest of his bulls." Thus can you picture government officials ramming their bird flu suspects through a giant strainer, and oozing from the bottom is a chicken puree?
When used as a noun, "a cull" is "something picked out from others", especially something rejected because of inferior quality. An example of this is the "cull tree", which is live saw-timber and pole-timber size trees which do not contain a merchantable sawlog due to poor form, quality, or undesirable species.
It would be beneficial for cancerous cells in our bodies to be culled. But it would definitely not be desirable for people to be culled.
Coming back to my mistaken assumption that cull is a corruption of kill, you would probably have already realised that the etymology of "kill" is quite different from "cull". "Kill" is derived from the Old English "cyllan", or possibly from the Indo-European "gwel-in".
In the final analysis, to cull is really to kill, regardless of the etymology. So Quentin Tarantino, might you call your next film Cull Bill 3?
PS: I just read a new report blaming the bird flu on ducks rather than chickens. Poor chicks, little did they know that the doctors were a bunch of quacks!