Faithful Sun-Times subscriber T. Z. Manuel mounted a linguistic argument against stuffed as an ``authenic descriptor'' in outdoor writing.
I relish that kind of discussion enough to blow off a good portion of Monday morning considering and researching. The photo above is from a wall of prepared and preserved bucks on exhibit at the 2008 Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic.
Manuel says they should properly be described as ``mounted,'' not ``stuffed.''
Let me set this up.
I stopped by the Sun-Times office on Friday. It was time--For my monthly visit and to clean up the overllowing cardboard box of mail. Normally, when I see a typed letter with no address I don't bother reading it. In this case, I am glad I did.
Here's the heart of the letter from Manuel, a former taxidermist, in response to the column on Fred Lutger of Freddie Bear Sports in Tinley Park on Sept. 27, 2009.
I was with you throughout the article, right up until you mention ``stuffed'' big game heads. You may consider the following a discard-able quibble, or an enrichment of your lexicon, which, it seems to me, ought to consist of the most authentic descriptors possible. While ``stuffed'' is indeed the popular term, misinformed though it is, taxidermists call them mounted game heads. Moreover, a single head, or the entire creature, is also called a mount.
In point of fact, game heads contain no ``stuffing.'' Rather, their capes (the word describing the preserved portion of the skin that makes up the entire head) are mounted on mannequins made of layers of strips of resin paper that solidify in a plaster mold sculpted to form the skull & muscling under the skin. It's quite hollow when finished; no stuffing at all.
This may be more than you ever expected or wanted to know about the process, but for sake of accuracy (and so as not to be part of the benign but annoying ignorance that still calls them ``stuffed''), you may want to embrace the words ``mount'' and ``mounted'' in future references. That way, you'll enhance public understanding, and delight the taxidermists of the world, who roll their eyes and get indigestion every time they hear that word, ``stuffed.''
The words in question come from the sixth paragraph in the column:
It's old-style from the tattered carpeting and scuffed floors -- ''I don't have to worry about the construction guys when they come in'' -- to the stuffed big-game animal heads lining the walls to overstuffed racks of archery gear and gadgets to minnow tanks in the back corner.
If you're with me so far, I might as well explain myself.
Believe it or not, I debated using ``mounted,'' which, BTW, I agree is more proper. But I went with ``stuffed'' for two reasons. One, I liked the rhyme play of ``stuffed'' off of ``scuffed.'' Two, it also played off of ``overstuffed racks.''
If it was just a general news story or column, I would absolutely defend my choice of words with the play of ``stuffed.'' Considering, it is an outdoors column where dead-on and apt descriptors are more precisely expected, I have to give more weight to Manuel's contention that it should be ``mounted.''
Yes, I can get obsessive about this stuff.
So, I pulled out the both The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manuel and the Outdoor Style Manual, the style Bible of outdoor writing from the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
Neither offered any help or direction in the ``mounted'' vs ``stuffed'' debate.
So I went to Merriam-Webster online. Below are the definitions in question.
First on stuffed:
1 e : to fill out the skin of (an animal) for mounting
Then for mounted:
7 a : to prepare (as a specimen) for examination or display
Then for taxidermy:
Main Entry: taxi•der•my
Etymology: tax- + derm- + 2-y
: the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals and especially vertebrates
The dictionary and stylebooks leave the question unanswered. But my sense is Manuel is right: in my position I shook stick with ``mounted'' and never use ``stuffed,'' even when I am playing with the words.
BTW, this is the one mount in my house.