Photo and Commentary ©2018 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

We dislike mixed metaphors, yet they are a part of our lives. Worse yet, we find ourselves using them in our own communications. Closely related are subjects that take on incompatible titles, most likely because the users of these nicknames focus on different aspects of the same subject, simply because of their personal interests or different exposure to the subject. A good example of this is the Northern Jacana, a slender wader that can infrequently be found within the borders of the United States. This is just one of a group of tropical birds known as Lily Trotters, so named because they are invariably found near freshwater lakes, moving about on top of floating vegetation. What enables them to do so is their light weight which is dispersed over a large surface area due to their extremely long feet and toes. This capability has given rise to the nickname “Jesus Bird” for it appears to walk on the water.

Contrast this with its second nickname, “the prostitute bird”. A more radical dissimilarity would be hard to imagine. But this title stems from its reproductive biology. The females of this species are androgynous, forming pair bonds and mating with several males with which they will raise multiple clutches. Weighing nearly twice as much as their male counterparts, the females will seek to protect the territories established by the different males. They can be rather feisty and use sharp carpal spurs that project from the bend in the wing to ward of undesirables.

As contradictory as these names might appear, consider the confusion that arises around a name found in Leviticus 16. Each year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest within the Jewish community selected two animals that were to play significant roles on that most serious of days. The first was selected as the sacrifice which was to be offered as payment for the confessed sins of the people which had accumulated in the sanctuary over the past year. This was clearly symbolic of the promised Savior who was to die for payment of our sins. But the second animal also played a significant role. This was the scapegoat which was to be released into the wilderness. While the significance of this action was undoubtedly clear to the ancient Jews, modern Christian theologians are divided as to whether this animal was symbolic of Christ or of Satan. I can understand how irreconcilable names for a bird could develop, but never confusion over something as incompatible as Christ and Satan.