March 21, 2017

SUBJECT: Leuk... I am your Father

leucistic junco
Leucistic Dark-Eyed Junco

This winter we’ve had a leucistic Dark-Eyed Junco that occasionally shows up at our bird feeders. Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents pigment in the bird’s feathers. It can range from small abnormalities in some of the feathers all the way to the bird being completely white. This not albinism however. Albinism affects the pigments of the entire body including the eyes, legs, feet and bills.

 This however raised a question between Jo and myself of how to correctly pronounce the word.

 At first glance, it would seem appropriate to pronounce the “c” in leucistic with a “s” sound and not a “k” sound. Such as “lusistik”. This is the way it is pronounced in the Oxford dictionary. This is also the way that I have heard fellow birders pronounce the word.

leucistic robin
Leucistic American Robin

Of course what you read on the Internent is always correct and...well the concensus?  You can find all sorts of pronunciations, but the majority pronounce it with an “s” sound and not the “k” sound.

 It wasn’t until I ran across The Veterinary Herpetologist website that I finally got to the real answer. A veternarian named Dr. Walden states “Unfortunately, most people that pronounce it "loo-si-zm" are hobbyists that are poorly trained in medical terminology, if they are trained at all.” He states that mispronouncing the word would lead to people dismissing you as a rube."


leucistic red-tailed hawk
Leucistic Red-Tailed Hawk

 Hmmm… I am a hobbyist and not trained at all in the medical field. Maybe I should keep pronouncing it as a hobbyist would? I do remember however visiting a hospital one day wearing a suit and was called out by a patient as a doctor. At least I know I can play one.

Dr. Walden then goes on to tell of a speaking engagement to a group of hobbyists: “I can remember speaking to a group of hobbyists not long ago and someone asked me a question about leukism. I corrected their pronounciation very politely, but you should have seen the looks from the whole room. I said, "I'm sorry, do you mean leukism?" The person looked a little puzzled. I continued by saying "the condition is called leukism, it comes from the Greek leukos meaning white." The whole room smiled and looked rather odd. I asked several people afterward why they looked odd. They laughed and said "everybody says 'leusism'." When I pointed out that was not correct, they replied "maybe, but if you say it like you say it, people will think you are wierd."

That’s weird. It thought weird was spelled w-e-i-r-d not w-i-e-r-d. Well, there goes his credibility. People will think he is a rube.

 Kidding aside, I like being weird and he does have legitimate points in his argument for how to pronounce leucistic. From now on, I will pronounce it with a “k” sound as in “Leuk... I am your father.”


—Alan Stankevitz


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