New Internationalist

Word Corner

February 2004

Elephant

There are two types of elephant, the Indian (Elephas maximus) and the larger-eared African (Loxodonto africana). An elephant’s tusks are made of ivory. Elephant is from the Greek elephas which originally meant ivory, not the animal. The Old English word for ivory was elpendban (elephant bone). The word for the elephant’s other distinguishing feature, the trunk, dates from confusion with trump or trumpet in the 1500s. Proboscis is from Greek and is literally ‘a means of providing food’. If any elephants are reading this, beware of oranges! Orange is from the Sanskrit naga ranga meaning ‘fatal indigestion for elephants’.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 364 This column was published in the February 2004 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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