I just discovered the Collation of language names page on the OED site; created to help users deal with the plethora of varying abbreviations used in the days before they decided to simply give all language names in full, it’s a staggering demonstration of the number of languages to which reference must be made in fully describing English. (I was amused on the A page to see that the second item was “Aboriginal”; I assume that referred to any of the native langugages of Australia, and that it’s long since been retired in favor of actual language names. Oh dear, and a few lines below that is “African”—I hope that was retired a long time ago.)


  1. Nope. kangaroo is “Aboriginal” (actually, Guugu Yimidhirr), as is boomerang (although narrowed down to NSW). pindan, the one contribution Bardi’s made to English, is also “aboriginal” (I wrote to them about that one).

  2. What’s ‘zebra’ labelled as these days? Dictionaries traditionally give it as some unidentifiable African language. Larry Trask was pretty sure it was actually from an irregular progression *ecifera

  3. … < equi-fer- ‘wild horse’
    … but with a &lt; instead of the symbol that cuts off the comment…

  4. [Congolese. Cf. F. zèbre, It. (Florio, 1598), Pg. zebra, Sp. cebra.]

  5. “Congolese,” huh? Well, it’s better than “African.”

  6. Sometimes secondary sources may report the origin of a word being given by a native in Africa, but the source itself is so undescriptive that the precise origin cannot be traced.
    Herodotus reporting the existence of “gorillas” comes to mind– the guide retained by the Phoenecians described those animals with that term. In turn, the word reached Herodotus who reported it. What’s the origin of the word? Some would say “African” — some indeterminate African language. I can’t say what the OED’s take on this word is, as I don’t have access to it from my home network connection. (via we have “[New Latin, from Greek Gorillai, a tribe of hairy women, perhaps of African origin.]“)
    (also, as an aside, it is speculated that the Phoenecians retained a Berber-speaking guide and the term “gorilla” comes from the Berber word “gurel”, which means something akin to “little people”)

  7. The OED says:
    “An alleged African name for a wild or hairy man (strictly for the female only), preserved (in acc. pl. gorillas) in the Greek account of the voyage undertaken by the Carthaginian Hanno in the 5th or 6th c. B.C.; hence adopted in 1847 as the specific name of the ape Troglodytes gorilla, first described by Dr. T. S. Savage, an American missionary in Western Africa.”
    Which is fine, and “perhaps of African origin” is fine; it’s the use of “African” as a language name that bothers me.

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