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You must have seen nature films in which antelope or gazelle are suddenly surprised by a cheetah. Before they run away, and also while they are running, the animals do a weird pouncing prance, in which they leap into the air, all four legs stiff and back arched. This is stotting. Quite why they do it isn’t understood, though it may be a form of alarm signal, or a good way to get a better view of the ground ahead, or they may have been bribed by the producer to make the pictures more interesting.

The word comes from Scots, where it means to bounce, or to make something bounce against a surface. Its origin is sadly obscure. In Orkney, the same verb can mean to stutter, so it may be linked to that verb through Middle English stuten, to stutter.

A rare native English sighting is in R S Surtees’ Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour of 1851: “Up started a great hare; bang! went the gun with the hare none the worse. Bang! went the other barrel, which the hare acknowledged by two or three stotting bounds and an increase of pace. ‘Well missed!’ exclaimed Mr Sponge”.

There is a story that the famous Newcastle stotty cake — a flat disc of soft bread, traditionally baked from left-over dough in the bottom of the oven — takes its name from the same source. The story goes that no local cook would consider a stotty cake properly made unless it bounced when she threw it on the kitchen floor. Make of this item of comestible folklorics what you will.

You may like to know that there’s another name for the leaping run of the gazelle, pronk, which comes via Afrikaans from the Dutch pronken, to strut.

Page created 21 Sep. 2002

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Last modified: 21 September 2002.