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On the Origin of Species: Farfetch'd

Investigating the inspirations behind Pokémon
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  • Sunday, June 6, 2010

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This column has been written by Xan Hutcheon. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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Farfetch'd, the Wild Duck Pokémon
When I first sat down to research Farfetch'd, I wasn't really sure if there would be enough material for a good article. The legend that inspired its creation, numerous websites assured me, was that of a wild duck that carried a green onion, which would appear in forests to offer itself up as a meal for starving travelers. As odd and faintly amusing as this tale was, there didn't seem to be a lot to it, and so I set out to research it further in the hope that I might discover additional details that would be of interest.

And what I found was... nothing. Searching through numerous online archives of Chinese and Japanese folklore, I couldn't find any reference to this legend at all. In fact, the only places that did make reference to such a legend were... Pokémon sites. Could the tale of the onion-bearing duck offering itself to travelers actually be a creation of the fandom?

Given the enormous scope of Eastern mythology, consisting of countless tales, each of which have countless variations, it's very difficult to say for certain that a story doesn't actually exist. But after combing through every source at my disposal and consulting a number of people in Japan, I have to conclude that there appears to be no such legend. If anybody reading this knows differently, then please don't hesitate to let me know... but for now, we must assume that the origin given above is false.

So, where does Farfetch'd come from? My research suggests that the true origin actually isn't a million miles away from the version above; only rather than being inspired by a legend, it comes from a certain Japanese saying: Kamo ga negi wo shotte kuru (鴨が葱を背負って来る), literally meaning 'a duck comes bearing green onions'. The phrase can be shortened simply to kamo negi (鴨葱)... which, when written in katakana, is Farfetch'd's Japanese name (カモネギ).

Let's take a step back for a moment and look at Farfetch'd itself. Its Japanese name is made up of kamo (鴨 or カモ), meaning 'duck', and negi (葱 or ネギ), which refers to a variety of green onion, Allium fistulosum – specifically, the onion that Farfetch'd can be seen carrying. Pokédex entries over the years have made several references to its rarity, and in the original Red and Blue games, only a single Farfetch'd is available, as a trade from an in-game trainer. The anime has also stated that the reason for this Pokémon's rarity is that it is a delicacy.

And culinary matters are central to the origins of Farfetch'd. Duck and green onion are the primary ingredients for a good duck stew, and so finding a duck carrying green onions would be a surprising but convenient occurrence. This is the first meaning of the idiom: something not asked for, but very convenient; a serendipitous event. In Red and Blue, the player's acquisition of the very rare Farfetch'd, traded for a common Spearow, could be seen as just such an event. The phrase is given a literal portrayal, as the player actually obtains a duck carrying a green onion.

There is a second meaning to the phrase, however. A duck bearing a green onion is a creature walking naïvely towards a nasty fate, and the idiom has come to refer to individuals who are easy to deceive. One dictionary gives the meaning 'along comes a sucker just begging to be parted from his money'. As a result, somebody who is easy to take advantage of can be referred to in Japanese as a kamo (鴨) or 'duck'.

Perhaps this, too, has relevance to Farfetch'd. Trading away a Spearow in order to get the otherwise-unobtainable Farfetch'd seems like a very good deal indeed. But Farfetch'd doesn't evolve, has quite poor stats all round and is of very limited use. Spearow, on the other hand, evolves into the far-superior Fearow, which proves to be a viable competitor throughout the game. Viewed in this context, might the duck in question be the player themselves, having traded away a potentially strong Pokémon for one that's all but useless?

Farfetch'd stands out amongst the Generation I Pokémon as one of the few that still have no evolution family. People have been calling for an evolution to Farfetch'd for years now, but in a way, I hope this never happens. It seems to me that Farfetch'd's poor battle potential reflects wonderfully the phrase that spawned its creation: the unsuspecting duck, unaware that it could be made into a delicious meal at any time. And if the perpetual loser can rise up and defeat a stronger opponent despite their handicaps, then doesn't that make victory all the sweeter? Here's to Farfetch'd, then: a celebration of the loser in all of us.

On the Origin of Species
By Xan Hutcheon
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