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Herons: mystical and majestic or ridiculous?
Short version: Herons are a group of birds that seem to be seen very differently by different cultures. How does your culture see herons?


Long version: I believe that, for an American who has never visited Britain, I have a good understanding of British humor. However, while watching Taskmaster recently, I saw Greg Davies state that Mark Watson "looks like a heron," and then burst with pride and impish glee at his own temerity, smirking while the audience went wild. It was clear that, in some strange, British way, Mark Watson had been ...dealt with. Greg Davies was so proud of the insult that it became a running theme repeated over and over again during the series.

I just didn't get it. It seemed...accurate. Yes, Mark Watson looks like a heron, just like Robert Mueller looks like an eagle. I didn't see the insult. In America, the most common species of heron is the majestic Blue Heron, the subject of thousands of paintings in which it stands regally poised while mystic fog rises from the river beneath it. Any day which includes a heron sighting is, for me, definitively a good day. I would be quite proud to be compared to a heron.

When I googled "British Herons", I saw that your native Grey Heron does look a bit more ridiculous than the Blue Heron. And yes, I admit that herons in general have a bit of a goofy, ugly call, and are not the most elegant fliers in the world. But still, I have trouble imagining that herons could be seen as being as ridiculous as, say, geese.

So, am I correct that British people generally see herons as ridiculous animals? Can you think of other places where they are portrayed like that?

And, as I said, I am very interested in the opinions of other cultures. What kind of stereotypes do you have about herons?
Jun 9, 2020 7:07 PM
Comments · 6
I obviously can't comment on the British perspective, but since you're asking about other cultures as well... According to some Russian fairy tales my parents used to read to me, herons (female creatures in Russian thanks to the grammatical gender of the word) are quite arrogant, egotistical and often also a little empty-headed. And of course one might call someone a heron just for bearing some physical resemblance to the bird. Either way, personally, I wouldn't be very happy to be called цапля, to be honest. But I've never seen a heron in my entire life, maybe I'll change my mind after seeing one :)
June 9, 2020
Ksenia says that herons in Russian are female creatures. It is funny. In French, we say "un héron", and totally dismiss the possibility that a "Madame Héron" could exist.
Idem en allemand : ein Reiher. In Dutch : een reiger. I'll check later on if I find quotations.
I have a heron friend here, close to Paris. It (???) comes back every year.
August 4, 2020
Thanks so much John, Kseniia, Adrian, and Dan!

Dan: Yeah, their call definitely takes some getting used to.
Kseniia: Huh. I never would have thought of herons as vain, but I guess I can see it now. It would be easy to compare the length of time they spend gazing at the water to the myth of Narcissus.
June 10, 2020
I see that you are a US-ian yourself. I'm not aware of any folk significance of herons in US culture. I've seen Great Blue Herons a few times and I personally regard them as mystical and majestic... until they open their mouths and make a sound like "FRAWNK" which I regard as ridiculous and comically incongruous with the bird.
June 9, 2020
I'm not aware of any symbolic significance of herons in English culture. If I am lucky I will see one standing motionless on the mud banks of the river Thames at low tide. It is a good sign that the river is clean and has fish.
June 9, 2020
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, French
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin), French