Victor Mair has a post at the Log called “Neoguri: raccoon or raccoon dog?” which discusses a typhoon name; it begins:

The typhoon that struck Okinawa a few days ago and is now passing by Tokyo is called Neoguri. It gets it name from a Korean word meaning “raccoon dog”.

The Japanese refer to it as Taifū 8-gō Neoguri 台風8号ネオグ リ (“Typhoon No. 8 Neoguri”), but most often without the “Neoguri” (see below for discussion of Japanese typhoon designation practices). However, the Chinese are calling it Huànxióng 浣熊 (“raccoon”), which is a clear mistranslation. The Chinese name for the raccoon dog is hé 貉 or háozi 貉子.

Bathrobe, who called Neoguri to my attention, writes: “Chinese has got itself in knots over naming precisely because of Chinese characters.”

The crux of the matter lies in the fact that, for Chinese, lí 狸 means (“raccoon”), while for Japanese it is the celebrated tanuki 狸 (“raccoon dog”), about which we will have much to say in this post.

It’s fascinating stuff, and if you go to the post you will learn a great deal about the animals involved, as well as how to pronounce the Korean word I used as a title. But the reason I decided to post it was that Mair sent me an e-mail calling my attention to this comment from Ives Goddard, who, as that Wikipedia article says, “is widely considered the leading expert on the Algonquian languages”:

The etymology of raccoon is unknown. The spellings of the Virginia Algonquian word include aroughcun, rarowcun, etc., etc. (John Smith) and arathkone and arrathcune (Wm. Strachey). There is no easy way to connect this to Unami Delaware (the Phila. area language) náhënëm (ë = schwa). Someone has evidently tried to do this (knowing that PA *hk > Del /h/) and has come up with a very bad and in fact completely incomprehensible PA reconstruction (“*ahrah-koon-em”) that appears online as if it were a real word an appalling number of times. I have no idea what the morphemes are supposed to be (except perhaps for the irrelevant -ëm). Can anyone trace this to the source that originally proposed it?

My only news on this word is that I have now been able to persuade the OED to use the spelling “raccoon” rather than the older British(!) and Canadian norm “racoon.”

Isn’t it great that people can discuss an Algonquian etymology and have the leading expert in the field drop by to shed light? I love this multiply connected world!


  1. Only one comment to make here: In a rather roundabout way, the Language Log article ultimately descends from a Languagehat article on the енот (9 Feb 2012). That article prompted me to look into the word for “raccoon” in East Asian languages and planted the seed for suggesting this to Prof. Mair as a topic for Language Log.

  2. I’m delighted to hear it!

  3. John Emerson says:

    There’s quite a literature on the use of the raccoon-dog, the fox-badger (ferret-badger), and the dhole (a kind of wild dog) as symbolic animals in Chinese poetry. The only one I can reference right now is this (possibly the last thing Schafer published): Schafer, Edward H. “The Chinese Dhole,” Asia Major 4.1 (New ser.; 1991): 1-6.

  4. I’m glad he was writing about this dhole rather than this one.

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