Lemurs! The innocuous, even playful ring-tailed animals us kids know from the movie Madagascar. Their name was given to them by none other than Carolus Linnaeus in the late eighteenth century, who, in a stroke of whimsy, named them lemures, which literally means "spirits of the dead" in Latin. The name was applied because of their slow gait, nocturnal habits, and generally sketchy looks. Anyway, the etymology of lemures is surprisingly obscure. Philologists can connect it to the Greek word lamia, meaning "monster", but since no other relatives exist, some hypothesize that the lemur actually has its origins in a non-Indo-European language such as Proto-Etruscan or Proto-Anatolian. Both of those are poorly researched, so there's little chance we'll find out soon. At least now you know to keep an eye out for dead spirits next time you visit a zoo.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd