Thursday, May 14, 2015

Underappreciated Ungulates of the World

Underappreciated Ungulates of the World

For the past two weeks we’ve considered the etymologies of well-known ungulates like pigs and deer. This week we’ll wrap up with some of the lesser-known ungulates of the world.

In 1774 English speakers first uttered 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.


  1. "Impala" made a great name for an automobile. But I wonder why some marketing executive didn't get right to the point and call a big red, rocket-shaped convertible a "Dik-Dik" LOL. Fascinating stuff, Mr. Monger. I always learn something here!

  2. Anne, you're cracking me up. I'm hoping this means your knee is giving you less trouble & things are looking up.

  3. Charlie, don't laugh! I once held a dik-dik. Cute little guy in the highlands of Ethiopia. Tiny deer doesn't cover it. I think I've got a photo of that somewhere. Great post as usual.

  4. Hey Paul - You're such a worldly & cosmopolitan guy. Tres cool.