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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 11 (February 1, 1938)

Elephant Language

Elephant Language.

The small boys who run and gape as the elephant does an engine's job with a string of trucks, hush each other to solve the mystery of the keeper's elephant language. But his “bulumphs” and “mollups” are not what they were.

In Wirth's circus the legend of the language arose thus. Years ago the head elephant keeper of that period was a man who had actually spent considerable time in India and could speak Hindustani, in which language Toby and the others were trained. The other keepers copied him, but the commands were handed down in corrupted form. Something like “fidjut” means back, “doll” is push, and “mile” means come on. “Mile” developed into “mile up,” and from that it fell to “mollup.” But sometimes you will hear English unashamed.

This Indian captain, as he called himself (they sometimes suffer a sea change) fell under the eye of the police in a minor thing, the too frequent lifting of an elbow or some such thing. But when they tried to arrest him he sat down between the elephant's legs.

“Come on and get me, then,” he shouted. “Come on!”

But when the police began to come on the keeper murmured something to Toby which made the elephant wave his trunk so threateningly that the law was discomforted and its purposes defeated.

Is it not to catch these little marvels and to enlarge the least that is unusual into a free show, that the banker halts his car and calls the land agent across? The grocer leans on his bicycle by the yard fence, and the butcher tucks his apron into his waist and keeps some housewife waiting for her morning joint. The children are as thick as ants.

The little town which stirs unusually in its summer greenness has heard a lion roar where once the stationmaster's cow was wont to graze. In the station reserve the dog daisies are white in the grass about the tents. The wild animal cages are pushed into the menagerie, and the big top catches the breeze as it is hauled upwards.