go·ril·la (gə-rĭl’ə)
n. 1) Either of two large apes (Gorilla gorilla or G. beringei) native to the forests of equatorial Africa, having a stocky body and coarse dark brown or black hair. 2) Slang a) A powerfully built, aggressive, and often crude man. b) A thug.
[New Latin (Trōglodytēs) gorilla, former species name, from Greek Gorillai, a tribe of hairy women, perhaps of African origin.]
Word History: Two traditions of exploration come together in the history of the word gorilla. When Dr. Thomas S. Savage, an American missionary to western Africa, made the first scientific description of a gorilla in 1847, he gave the animal he was describing the New Latin name Troglodytes gorilla. In formulating this name, Savage was making reference to the Periplus, an ancient Greek version of a report (originally written in Punic) in which Hanno, a Carthiginian public official and navigator, describes a voyage he undertook to West Africa. Sometime after 500 BC (the date of his voyage is uncertain), Hanno sailed out of the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar and followed the coast of Africa southward at least as far as Sierra Leone—perhaps even going as far as Cameroon. In his report, Hanno tells of seeing members of a tribe of hairy women called Gorillai, the name of which he allegedly learned from local informants. In fact, the Gorillai that he saw may have been chimpanzees or perhaps even the apes that we call gorillas today, using the name that Savage bestowed on them twenty-four centuries after Hanno's voyage.

Word Histories. 2014.

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  • gorilla — ☆ gorilla [gə ril′ə ] n. [< Gr gorillai, a tribe of hairy women, recorded by Hanno, Carthaginian navigator, as the native name in use in W Africa in the 5th c. B.C. for wild creatures found there] 1. the largest, and most powerful of the great …   English World dictionary

  • gorilla — 1847, applied to the apes (Troglodytes gorills) by U.S. missionary Thomas Savage, from Gk. gorillai, plural of name given to wild, hairy people in a Greek translation of Carthaginian navigator Hanno s account of his voyage along the N.W. coast of …   Etymology dictionary

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  • Gorilla — Go*ril la, n. [An African word; found in a Greek translation of a treatise in Punic by Hanno, a Carthaginian.] (Zo[ o]l.) A large, arboreal, anthropoid ape of West Africa. It is larger than a man, and is remarkable for its massive skeleton and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • gorilla — ► NOUN 1) a powerfully built great ape of central Africa, the largest living primate. 2) informal a heavily built aggressive looking man. ORIGIN Greek, representing an alleged African word for a wild or hairy person …   English terms dictionary

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