Pyg·my also Pig·my (pĭgmē)
n. pl. Pyg·mies also Pig·mies
1. Greek Mythology A member of a race of dwarfs.
2. also pygmy A member of any of various peoples, especially of equatorial Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, having an average height less than 5 feet (1.5 meters).
a. An individual of unusually small size.
b. An individual considered to be of little or no importance: political pygmies.
1. also pygmy Of or relating to the Pygmies.
a. Unusually or atypically small.
b. Unimportant; trivial.
[Middle English pigmie, from Latin Pygmaeī, the Pygmies, from Greek Pugmaioi, from pugmē, cubit, fist; see peuk- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: From an anthropological point of view, a pygmy is a member of any of various African, Asian, or South American peoples whose average height is less than five feet. As an ethnic term, however, Pygmy is used more exclusively of the peoples inhabiting the forests of equatorial Africa in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding countries. Many people consider it offensive to refer to others by a name that identifies them in terms of a physical trait and would prefer to use an alternative, if one existed. But the indigenous names of these peoples—such as Aka, Twa, and Efe—are unfamiliar to most Americans, and none of them can be used as a comprehensive term for all such groups, even in central Africa. Thus Pygmy is still in general use, although sometimes qualified by "so-called" to indicate dissatisfaction with a term that strikes many as inherently derogatory.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.