A narwhal is a kind of whale native to the Arctic circle that's well known for having a horn-like large tusk protruding from its face. The word comes either from Dutch narwal or Norwegian narhval, but ultimately traces to the Old Norse word nahvalr, which meant "corpse whale". Some people back then thought that the pale white color of the mammals resembled that of cadavers, hence the name. Nahvalr is composed of Old Norse na, meaning "corpse" (from Proto-Germanic nawiz and Proto-Indo-European nehu, also "corpse") and the noun hvalr, meaning "whale" (through Proto-Germanic hwalaz, this derives from the Proto-Indo-European root kalos, which described a specific kind of catfish). After narwhals became an internet meme in 2009, Google searches for them spiked, peaking in 2015.
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.