Today, a friend told me that the word alligator comes from the Latin word alligare, meaning "to bind". Turns out that's untrue, although there was an unrelated alligator definition that meant "one who binds" and died out in the eighteenth century. The real story of the reptile's name is far more interesting. It's a corruption of Spanish el lagarto del Indias, or "the lizard of the indies". The el became an a- at the beginning and then a folksy -r was added at the end in much the same way that we got the words feller for fella and tater for potato. Lagarto comes from another Latin word, lacertus, which meant "lizard" as well (and is also the source of the word lizard). That has an unknown etymology, but it has been proposed to be related to the word for "upper arm", larcertum, because of a perceived resemblance in movement.
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.