While learning Bahasa Malaysia, I have discovered that some birds are metaphors in their language.

Stephanie LeBlanc from Unsplash. Two gray owls.

The children’s dictionary says “owl” in English, for example, but the Malaysian translation is two words: XX bird. Owl is “ghost bird” literally.

What would it mean to be a ghost bird? What does a ghost bird do that other birds don’t? If you didn’t know it was an owl, what would you think?

Camel Bird
Another bird is the “camel bird.” What would a camel bird do?

For me, I am thinking it can go a long way without water and/or it can carry a lot of things.

How would a camel bird be different from another bird?

Would it be a bird with two humps?

If I am world building in a science fiction or fantasy setting, what use would a camel bird be? Why might a culture need one? Perhaps it can fly a particularly long way before having to land.

Think about it before you keep reading. What would you do with a camel bird in a story?

Will you have to learn Malaysian to find out what a camel bird is? No. Just put camel bird into Google translator in English to Malay. Then put those two words into Malay to English. It will tell you what the bird is.

Another Language?

Do you have to learn another language to come up with these metaphors? No.

Generate a list of animals and use them with “bird.”

What would a cow bird be? But wait! What if there are already cowbirds? Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Apparently some of the female cowbirds go inspect the nests before they decide which to take over.

So, you can make up animals AND learn about real ones with this. I like that idea.

I put in “animal list” and found one with lots of animals. Then I picked a letter from the alphabet and chose an animal from the middle.

That gave me fox bird. There is a fox sparrow, but do not be deceived. The “red fox bird” is not real.

If it were, though, what kind of bird would it be? Would it hunt or be hunted? Is it poisonous, since it is red? Or is it a harbinger of spring? What if it only came out in Autumn and hibernated the rest of the year? What kind of story would need that information?

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