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.
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.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
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