Mammoth as an adjective for "huge" obviously was named after the extinct animal, but where did the name for mammoths originate? It didn't sound Indo-European, and the word fit into my schema for Quarternary period America, so I deduced Algonquian. How wrong I was. Turns out it isn't Indo-European, but it's as far as you can get from the Americas. Through Russian mammot, the noun mammoth traces to the Mansi (the Uralic language of an indigenous Siberian people) word menont, which meant "earth-horn". This is a portmanteau of the Mansi word ma ("earth") and ant ("horn"). Ma (with Finnish cognate maa, since Finnish is also Uralic) is from Proto-Uralic mexe, meaning "earth", which may actually be from Proto-Indo-European. Ant also has Proto-Uralic origins. The word mammoth entered English in 1706 and its usage spiked highest in 1878. The Russian word mammot was also used to create the genus classification of mammutidae.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.