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What links monks, coffee and crested tits?

Updated: Apr 10


Languages are often more inter-connected than we think.

Currently dog-sitting in the Swiss Alps, I am thrilled to see several types of bird which are very rare in GB, but which are abundant here: redstarts and siskins make regular visits to the garden, and crested tits to the bird feeder. It is that latter that piques my interest, as a word nerd, as well as a bird nerd…


The crested tit in German is Haubenmeise (hooded/crested tit, which gives us a link to the great crested grebe, which is a Haubentaucher = crested diver) and in French mésange huppé. So far so interesting, only if you are a bird-lover.

It gets more intriguing when you learn that the Spanish name for this cute little bird is herrerillo capuchino.

What? Is the bird named after the coffee? Or vice versa? Do they have anything to do with monkeys? Or maybe monks? Ah! Now we’re onto something.

The monks set the trend. To be precise, the order known as Fratum Minorum Cappuccinorum, (Friars Minor Capuchin) formed in 1525, were recognisable for their hooded habits, which were beige in colour.


When the Portuguese and Spanish were exploring and squabbling over land in South America, around the time that this order of monks was established, they began naming things and the monkey with the tan coloured face and shoulders was sufficiently reminiscent to gain the name ‘capuchin monkey’. It stuck.


Similarly, when the inventors of a particular order of coffee, circa 1930, were looking around for a catchy name, someone had the bright idea of naming it after the monks, as the frothy cream gave it a colour very reminiscent of the monks’ habits. Have you ever wondered what a cappuccino coffee has to do with a monkey? Now you know.


The crested tit completes this particular set, as far as my knowledge goes. The ‘capuchino’ of their Spanish name refers to the fact that they have a hood/crest more than to their colour, which is a little beige, but only in small part.



Andrew Wenger, self-confessed word-nerd and bird-nerd loves making connections within and between languages like this, but accepts that learning about niche vocabulary such as this is not everyone’s cup of cappuccino. So whilst we sometimes go off on little tangents to explore word origins, we rarely devote much lesson time to such things. Rather, we try to spend as much time as possible learning, practising and using real-life expressions that will be relevant when you get to go to your country of choice.

Please contact us here if you would like to find out more about joining a language lesson. We currently have space in French, Spanish and German classes at all levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. We also offer Italian, Japanese and Mandarin tuition.

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