For the past two posts we’ve considered the etymologies of well-known ungulates like pigs and deer. Today, we’ll wrap up with some of the lesser-known ungulates of the world.
In 1774 English speakers first wrote the word tapir to refer to a 330-700 pound South American mammal with a prehensile snout. The English word tapir came from the Tupi language of Brazil, probably through French.
The springbok is a gazelle of South Africa. Springbok came to English from Afrikaans in 1775. Springbok is a compound word using springen, to leap & bok, antelope.
The dik-dik is a tiny (7-16 pound) African antelope. The word came to English in 1880 from one of the many east African languages; sadly, nobody knows which one. It’s likely that the name is onomatopoeic, as the “bark” of the dik-dik sounds much like its name.
Another African antelope, the kudu, got its name from the Xosa-Kaffir language (originally iqudu). Kudu made its way into English in 1777.
In the year 1900 the Mbuba language of the Congo gave English the word okapi, a short-necked giraffe of the region.
Another African antelope, the impala, got its name from another native African language, Zulu. The word impala showed up in English in 1875. Impala didn’t make its way in chrome onto the side of a Chevrolet until 1958.
The ibex is a goat native to parts of Africa and Eurasia. The word ibex first appeared in English in the early 1600s, coming through Latin from an unidentified source.
The Tibetan word q-yag gave us yak, the wild ox of Central Asia. Yak came to English in 1795.
Here’s hoping a little attention has raised the spirits of the world’s underappreciated ungulates.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Ultimate Ungulate, Etymonline, & the OED.
Last week we took an initial look at ungulates. This week we’ll start with the observation that the idiom hog heaven came into use about 1940, then we’ll look into a few words that define the more hog-related ungulates.
The word swine, meaning pig, hog or wild boar, applies too all the hog-like critters below. Swine showed up in English before English was English, and come from the Proto-Germanic word swinan. The word sow, referring to the female pig is closely related to the word swine & has been around as long.
The word hog has been a part of the English language since the 1100s. Interestingly, hog originally referred to the age of a critter, and was applied to what we now call hogs, horses and sheep when they were about a year old. It wasn’t until 1400 or so that sheep and horses left the word hog behind. Within the next century hog also began to mean a gluttonous person. A gathering of hogs has been known as a drift, a piggery & a hoggery.
The origin of the word pig is a bit of a mystery. It was in use in Old English (spelled pigc), & referred only to young pigs, while the mature ones were called swine. Words for gatherings of pigs include litter, farrow, drove, cote, sounder & team.
The javelina (also known as a peccary), is a native of Mexico and the southwest United States. The word javelina came to English in 1815 through Spanish from Arabic, where the word jabal i meant mountain swine. The word peccary, on the other hand, entered in English in 1610 from one of the Carib languages (most likely Venezuelan or Guianan). A gathering of javelinas or peccaries is known as a sounder.
What have you to say about all this ungulation?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: David W. K. Godrich’s A Gaggle of Geese, Wordnik, Ultimate Ungulate, Etymonline, & the OED.
This week, let's appreciate a typically underappreciated order of critters, the ungulates.
The word ungulate first showed up in English in 1802 from the Latin word ungulatus, or hoofed. Soon after that, in 1839 the word ungulates began representing the entire order of hoofed mammals.
Recent advances in DNA testing have completely changed our understanding of which critters are & aren’t ungulates. The old-school ungulates have now been sliced, diced & moved around. Who knew in 1839 that a hippopotamus was more closely related to a whale than it was to a rhinoceros? Who ever guessed that whales belonged in the order named for hooved mammals?
There are 257 species of ungulates on the globe as I type. In the next three posts we’ll take a look at the etymologies of a few of them.
In the 1300s, the word rhinoceros appeared in English, taken from the Greek word rhinokeros, which meant nose-horned.
The word hippopotamus showed up in the 1560s. It came through Late Latin, but started with the Greeks, & meant river-horse. This spelling replaced the earlier Middle English word ypotame, which also means river-horse & also comes from Greek, but made its way through French before landing in England.
The word deer is an Old English word once spelled doer. It meant animal or beast. Heorot, the word the Old English used to refer to the modern critter we call a deer morphed in time to the word hart. It seems that the word deer won out over time because enough folks going hunting for any animals preferred finding deer to the other options (some which had nasty tusks). In time, the initially general term took on the more specific meaning.
An Algonquin language (most likely Narragansett or Abenaki) gave English the word moose in 1610 The word means he strips off, which refers to either the moose’s habit of using his palmate antlers to strip the bark off trees, or to the moose's use of the bark of trees to strip the "velvet" from the antlers.
Junior etymologists unite! What have you to say about all this ungulation?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Ultimate Ungulate,Etymonline, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.