c. 1400, quil, "piece of reed, stalk of cane, hollow stem of a feather" (used as a tube to drain liquid), probably somehow related to Middle High German kil "quill," from Low German quiele, which is of unknown origin. Meaning "writing pen made from one of the larger feathers of a goose, swan, or other bird" is from 1550s; that of "porcupine spine" is from c. 1600. Quill-pen is attested by 1828, after steel pens or nibs came into use.
"a large waterfowl proverbially noted, I know not why, for foolishness" [Johnson], Old English gos "a goose," from Proto-Germanic *gans- "goose" (source also of Old Frisian gos, Old Norse gas, Old High German gans, German Gans "goose"), from PIE *ghans- (source also of Sanskrit hamsah (masc.), hansi (fem.), "goose, swan;" Greek khen; Latin anser; Polish gęś "goose;" Lithuanian žąsis "goose;" Old Irish geiss "swan"), probably imitative of its honking.
Geese are technically distinguished from swans and from ducks by the combination of feathered lores, reticulate tarsi, stout bill high at the base, and simple hind toe. [Century Dictionary]
Spanish ganso "goose" is from a Germanic source. Loss of "n" sound before "s" is normal in English (compare tooth). Plural form geese is an example of i-mutation. Meaning "simpleton, silly or foolish person" is from early 15c. To cook (one's) goose is attested by 1845, of unknown origin; attempts to connect it to Swedish history and Greek fables are unconvincing. Goose-egg "zero" is attested by 1866 in baseball slang, from being large and round. The goose that lays golden eggs (15c.) is from Aesop.
A separate word-thread derives from Old English swancor "pliant, bending," and from this comes swanky (n.) "active or clever young fellow" (c. 1500).
a word or set of identical words with a wide range of meanings, many seeming to derive from notions of "heap, lump, rounded object," also "head," and metaphoric extensions of both. With its cognates in other Germanic languages, of uncertain origin and development.
"The N.E.D. recognizes eight nouns cob, with numerous sub-groups. Like other monosyllables common in the dial[ect] its hist[ory] is inextricable" [Weekley]. In the 2nd print edition, the number stands at 11. Some senses are probably from Old English copp "top, head," others probably from Old Norse kubbi or Low German, all the words perhaps trace to a Proto-Germanic base *kubb- "something rounded."
Among the earliest attested English senses are "headman, chief," and "male swan," both early 15c., but the surname Cobb (1066) suggests Old English used a form of the word as a nickname for "big, leading man." The "corn shoot" sense is attested by 1680s.
"periphrastic expression in early Germanic poetry" (such as swan-road for "sea," sky-candle for "sun"), 1871, a modern learned word from Old Norse kenning in a special sense "poetical periphrasis or descriptive name" (it also meant "teaching, doctrine; preaching; mark of recognition"), from kenna "to know, to recognize, to feel or perceive; to call, to name (in a formal poetic metaphor)," from PIE root *gno- "to know."
In the whole poem of Beowulf there are scarcely half a dozen of them [similes], and these of the simplest character, such as comparing a ship to a bird. Indeed, such a simple comparison as this is almost equivalent to the more usual "kenning" (as it is called in Icelandic), such as "brimfugol," where, instead of comparing the ship to a bird, the poet simply calls it a sea-bird, preferring the direct assertion to the indirect comparison. [Henry Sweet, "Sketches of the History of Anglo-Saxon Poetry," London, 1871]
Cognate Old English cenning is attested as "procreation; declaration in court" (and see kenning (n.2)).
general common name of birds of the genus Corvus (the larger sort being sometimes called ravens), Old English crawe, which is held to be imitative of the bird's cry. Compare Old Saxon kraia, Dutch kraai, Old High German chraja, German Kräke.
Noted for sagacity and sociability. The British and North American species are very similar. Phrase as the crow flies "in a straight line" is from 1810; the image is attested in different form from 1800.
American English figurative phrase eat crow "do or accept what one vehemently dislikes and has opposed defiantly, accept things which, though not unbearable, are yet scarcely to be wished for," is attested by 1870 (originally often eat boiled crow), and seems to be based on the notion that the bird is edible when boiled but hardly agreeable.
There was an oft-reprinted mid-19c. joke about a man who, to settle a bet that he could eat anything, agrees to eat a boiled crow. As he with great difficulty swallows the first to mouthfuls, he says to the onlookers, "I can eat crow, but I don't hanker arter it." The joke is attested by 1854 (Walter Etecroue turns up 1361 in the Calendar of Letter Books of the City of London).
I tried my best to eat crow, but it was too tough for me. "How do you like it?" said the old man, as, with a desperate effort, he wrenched off a mouthful from a leg. "I am like the man," said I, "who was once placed in the same position: 'I ken eat crow, but hang me if I hanker arter it.'" "Well," says the captain, "it is somewhat hard; but try some of the soup and dumplings and don t condemn crow-meat from this trial, for you shot the grandfather and grandmother of the flock: no wonder they are tough; shoot a young one next time." "No more crow-meat for me, thank you," said I. [James G. Swan, "The Northwest Coast, or Three Years' Residence in Washington Territory," New York, 1857]
The image of a crow's foot for the wrinkles appearing with age at the corner of the eye is from late 14c. ("So longe mote ye lyve Til crowes feet be growen under youre ye." [Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, c. 1385]).