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It is true that as a fox, I should know this, so consider this a spoilers warning.

In a recent post, Geek Girl mentions that the mating call of the fox is a series of sharp, eerie barks and that this is called gekkering. This is supported by a citation in Wikipedia, but the reference is not one I have access to.

I am very curious about how this sound came to be named gekkering. There is nothing to be found on Etymonline, and gekker only appears in Wikitionary as far as I can tell. A Google search of the word turns up Gekker as a surname, but not much else.

Interestingly though, there is Chris Gekker, who is a master trumpteer and has a published series of "Gekker Articulation Studies". I don't know if he is old enough to have any sort of influence on the naming (his pictures make me think he is younger than the term) but I wonder if there is some connection there.

Does anyone know the etymology or history of the term "gekkering"?

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I have no idea about gekkering, but Aristophanes' frogs say "brek-kek-kek-koax-koax" –  StoneyB Jan 1 at 4:42
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Not a duplicate of english.stackexchange.com/questions/138272/… –  Andrew Grimm Jan 1 at 4:52
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OED doesn't include the word at all. –  Andrew Leach Jan 1 at 11:22
    
Listen at 1m11s here: youtube.com/watch?v=J6NuhlibHsM&t=1m11s –  Hugo Jan 1 at 15:02
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@terdon If Aristophanes wrote my lines I'd keep em too. –  StoneyB Jan 3 at 0:30
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There's a possible 1978 reference to gekkering in a Google Books snippet of The Junior Bookshelf, Volume 42:

She is born beneath the hawthorn hedge and through play and "gekkering" with her brothers and sisters learns the skill ...

David Macdonald is a Scottish zoologist and conservationist whose early work was on red foxes. According to Wikipedia:

He is known for his documentary films and his popular books, for which he has twice won the Natural World Author of the Year award. His Night of the Fox won the BAFTA for Best Documentary Film of 1976, Running with the Fox won the Natural History Book of the Year award for 1987

You can hear some gekkering at 1m11s in this video.

Gekkering isn't in the OED, but perhaps it's related to the Scottish and northern dialects' verb geck:

intr. to geck at : to scoff at, to use mocking language or gestures towards.

Geck's etymology:

apparently < Low German gecken = Middle Dutch ghecken , Dutch gekken , German gecken : see geck n.1, and compare the echoic German gecken to croak, cackle. Also in Scandinavian as Danish gjække, Swedish gäcka.

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Hugo wondered aloud if David Macdonald himself had coined the term, so I sent him an email. Here is his reply:

I believe it comes from the german word gekkern, and I adapted it, and is probably onomatopoeic

In haste

David Macdonald

It sounds to me like he coined it based on a word or phrase that was familiar to him.

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Well done, detective KitFox. Mystery solved! –  Mari-Lou A Jan 1 at 16:42
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That’s just super-cool!!! –  tchrist Jan 1 at 22:24
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I found a blog entry dated December 27 2007 which describes the fox's sound thus:

It wasn't the usual fox calls, more a rapid 'tapping' sound as though someone was gently hammering a stone. [and] it was more like very rapid footsteps or tapping, but apparently it's an aggressive sound commonly heard during the courtship season

On the same page the author cites this piece of information taken from Irish Peat Conservation Council site:

The other noises are made when the foxes are in contact. One is called gekkering, or clikketing, a mechanical staccato noise which sounds similar to the clicking noise made by a football supporters rattle

The spelling of "clikketing" might be erroneous, I believe it should spelled as clickerting

On a website called World animal Foundation I found this description, again the fox mating call is said to be gekkering

The alarm bark: This monosyllabic sound is made by an adult to warn cubs of danger. From far away it sounds like a sharp bark, but at closer range it resembles a muffled cough, like a football rattle or a stick along a picket fence. Gekkering: This is a stuttering, throaty noise made at aggressive encounters. It is most frequently heard in the courting season, or when kits are at play

The earliest reference I found on Google Books dated 1980, entitled Biogeographica. The red fox printed in the Netherlands and edited by the German animal behavioral scientist Erik Zimen.

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This might help explain the origins of the expression gekkering. It's a stab in the dark, but it could be borrowed from German. I leave that task to someone else to find out.

Update:

From Bioacoustics, The International Journal of Animal Sound, and its Recording, 1993, Volume 5, pp 1-31. A copy of which is availbale for download here. I found the following entry

Type 5: Ratchet calls (Figure 7)
This call type has been referred to keckern (Tembrock 1957), Clickerting (Margoschis and Burrows 1978), clicketing (Macdonald 1987), or gekkering (Macdonald 1987). Ratchet calls occurred most commonly as a burst with a highly variable number of components

Keckern is German for to make angry noises [of an animal] zool.

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+1 for citing the Irish Peat Conservation Council. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 1 at 10:20
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Good answer. The nearest German word that I know is "gackern" which is the sound that ducks and geese make. –  Shoe Jan 1 at 10:25
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Thanks, Mari-Lou. You taught me a new German word! –  Shoe Jan 1 at 13:27
    
I wonder if Macdonald came up with the term? He did a lot of work on red foxes and I found a possible 1978 which is probably from him. –  Hugo Jan 1 at 16:17
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@Hugo I wondered the same thing, so I sent him an email. –  KitFox Jan 1 at 16:21
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