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Jackalope

Pronounced /ˈdʒækələʊp/Help with pronunciation

The jackalope is a mythical beast, one that belongs with the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot as a greater contributor to the local tourist trade than to biological science. The citizens of some western states of the USA have long had fun convincing credulous visitors that the animal is real.

Where it comes from is open to doubt, and even controversy, but in a report last month of the death of Douglas Herrick it was stated as fact that he was its true inventor. The story goes that he and his brothers, who ran a taxidermy shop in Douglas, Wyoming, mounted the horns of a pronghorn antelope on to the body of a jackrabbit sometime in the 1930s and exhibited it straight-faced, naming it by an equally ingenious conflation of the constituent animals’ names. In the decades since, the firm has made several thousands of them, so much so that Douglas has become the jackalope capital of the USA. In 1965, the state of Wyoming trademarked the name and you can even buy hunting licenses, good between midnight and 2am on 31 June any year.

The odd thing is that, as the result of a virus, jackrabbits can sometimes grow what really do look like horns, sometimes up to five inches in length, and this may be the source of several ancient stories about horned rabbits on which the invented legend may rest. Truth really can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 15 Feb. 2003

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-jac2.htm
Last modified: 15 February 2003.