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NPR and many other sources on the Internet say that vernepator cur is Latin for "the dog that turns the wheel." Apparently, the phrase vernepator cur was really in use in England at one time as a name for the turnspit dog, a breed (some say species) of small, short-legged dog whose job was to walk inside a wheel that turned a roasting spit in a nearby fireplace in a large kitchen.

A turnspit dog

What is the story behind the phrase vernepator cur? Is it really Latin, or is it some kind of mock Latin or popular solecism?

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Cur is Germanic (you can see its etymology on Wiktionary), so that should be your first clue that this isn't real Latin.

Also, if you check the Wikipedia, you'll notice that "vernepator" lacks a citation for it. In that NPR article, if you go to the actual book referenced, the word (in both Latin and English) given is veruversator(es), from versator ("one who turns") and veru ("spit"). My guess is that this is some modern mistake, because vernepator doesn't show up in any book if you search for 19th/20th century books on Google books. It looks like it could be a garbled version of vervversator, perhaps an early bad OCR read? This random site even quotes other words from that book, but still gets it wrong.

As I mentioned above, cur is not Latin, but Germanic, and is might be related to Old Norse kurra, "to murmur, to growl (with dogs)." The plural curres shows up at the top of the page, but it's clear it's English, not Latin. Perhaps the person reading it assumed cur was the Latin word for dog and put that together with the garbled vernepator above.

Looking at the history of that Wikipedia article, it seems the first draft of the article was atrocious and has other mistakes. This is probably one of those mistakes that was never corrected. If that's the case, NPR (and the Kennel Club!) really dropped the ball on this one: ignorance of Latin and reading errors compounded with shoddy journalism.

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