Crappie vs. croppie: Some holiday-season word play

Tackling the question of crappie vs. croppie in the fullness of the holiday spirit.

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Speaking of crappie, Saniya Askew’s 14-inch crappie, caught at Wampum Lake this spring, was one of my favorite Fish of the Week in 2020. Provided photo

Speaking of crappie, Saniya Askew’s 14-inch crappie, caught at Wampum Lake this spring, was one of my favorite Fish of the Week in 2020.

Provided

I pronounce crappie the way it’s spelled, as in, “How do you describe 2020?”

But others? Well.

Vic Santucci, Illinois’ Lake Michigan program manager, emailed, “I say crappie, as in row ‘crop.’ Sorry, old school.”

Last week in the obituary for Ed Mullady, I noted how he said ‘‘croppie’’ for crappie, and it made me smile. He even wrote it as croppie.

Enter Mark Brown, the erudite, ruggedly handsome (in a scholarly way) Chicago Sun-Times political columnist.

“I’m confused by the lead in today’s column,” he emailed. “I thought the correct pronunciation of crappie is croppie.”

When I suggested he join the 21st century on the favored panfish, he felt compelled to add, “I think you are wrong.”

Phil Willink, a member of the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board, emailed, “I was writing an endangered-fish paper, but since it is the holiday season, I am easily distracted at the moment.”

Willink, who previously worked for the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, noted he always said “crappie.”

The Oxford English Dictionary listed multiple pronunciations and an unknown origin in the mid-19th century. Merriam-Webster put the first use as “circa 1827,” and the word comes from the Canadian French “crapet.”

There’s the crux.

“If I remember my French correctly, the ‘t’ on the end of ‘crapet’ is dropped,” Willink emailed. “ ‘E’ in the middle of a syllable is ‘ay.’ And ‘a’ is pronounced ‘ah.’ So now I think the correct pronunciation is ‘krah-pay,’ which is sort of in the middle of crappie and croppie.

“But being scientific, I usually pronounce it ‘Pomoxis’ — the scientific genus name.”

I emailed the University of Chicago linguistics department. Founded in the 1930s, it’s the oldest in the country. Apparently no one had time for my nonsense on croppie or crappie. Or maybe no one there knew and preferred silence to appearing ignorant.

Illinois fisheries chief Mike McClelland replied, “It’s pronounced crop not crap for crappie in my neck of the woods!”

Then he added, “To be honest, I’ve never heard it pronounced as ‘crap’ crappie in Illinois. Only in the southern states.”

Solomon David, formerly a colleague of Willink’s at the Shedd and now an assistant professor in biological sciences at Nicholls State University, tweeted, “I have heard it both ways and don’t really claim one over the other. I actually say ‘croppie,’ but plenty of people I know say ‘crappie.’ . . . Heck, down here in Louisiana, they just call them ‘sac-a-lait.’ ”

I like that.

Dale Bowman with a lively crappie (before it met the fillet knife), caught in April of 2019 from an old clay pit. Credit: Dale Bowman

Dale Bowman with a lively crappie (before it met the fillet knife), caught in April of 2019 from an old clay pit.

Dale Bowman

ILLINOIS HUNTING

Harvest during muzzleloader-only season, Dec. 11-13, was 3,447 deer, compared to 3,076 in 2019. Click here for a fuller breakdown.

WILD THINGS

While the sandhill crane count drops at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana, many skeins continue flying through the Chicago area. . . . Lots of readers sent notes on their neighborhood red foxes.

STRAY CAST

One Burger King king caroling is to creepy what two bullheads’ pectoral and dorsal fin spines pricking are to pain.

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