Someone asked me today if the word orangutan has anything to do with the color orange. While it would be awfully convenient if that were the case, the real etymology is far more interesting. The noun was borrowed into English in the late seventeenth century through Dutch orang-outan, and that was picked up by sailors from the Malay phrase orang hutan, which described people who lived in the forest (and did not actually refer to the ape - they had a separate word for that, mawas). The name literally translates to "forest person", coming from orang, meaning "person" (from Proto-Malay urang, "outsider") and hutan, meaning "forest" (from a Proto-Malay reconstruction with the same spelling and definition). Interestingly, the genus name, pongo, comes from a Kongo word for "gorilla", because people thought they were the same type of animal for a while.
Leave a Reply.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.