The language of sneakers


Adidas or Reeboks. Pumas or Jordans. Keds or Vans. Whatever kind you wear, they all have one thing in common. They’re called sneakers.

Or are they? Just as there are innumerable sneaker brands and styles, there are a plethora of names for that casual, rubber-soled shoe. Here we take a look at some of them from across the United States and around the globe.

“Sneaker” or “tennis shoe”?

Sneaker and tennis shoe are neck and neck for most popular term in the U.S. According to the Harvard Dialect Survey, 45.5% of Americans say sneaker while 41.34% say tennis shoe.

The use of sneaker, says the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), is widespread but somewhat more frequent in the Northeast and North Central states. Meanwhile, tennis shoe is less frequent in the Northeast.

While sneaker is slightly more popular than tennis shoe, the latter is about eight years older. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from Rudyard Kipling’s 1887 short story, “The Bisara of Pooree“: “It was his wizenedness and worthlessness that made him fall so hopelessly in love with Miss Hollis, who was good and sweet, and five-foot-seven in her tennis-shoes.”

Some sneaky (and tennie) variations

While sneaker and tennis shoe dominate U.S. vernacular, you might hear some variations thereof.

In the Northeast, someone might say sneaks for sneakers. In western Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes region, tennis shoes might be called tenners. Scattered throughout the country but chiefly in the western Great Lakes, Iowa, and the West (but not the Northwest), you might get tennie, while in the Northwest the preferred term seems to be tennie-runner. In the Southern region, you might hear tennie-pump, tennies, or simply tennis.

More U.S. sneaker slang

Regional variations don’t stop at these alterations. Back in the day, you might have heard ball shoe in the South Midland states. Going for a run in southern Louisiana? You’ll need your decks, short for the sneaker-esque deck shoe. In Montana, Ohio, and Mississippi, your tennies might be known as quick starts while in the Gulf States and South Carolina, you might take a walk in your easy walkers.

Highs and lows

Sneakers are referred to by their style. Low-top meaning any low-topped shoe or boot originated in 1892, says the OED, and came to refer specifically to sneakers in the late 1980s. As for high-top, the OED’s first mention is from 1895, again meaning a regular shoe or boot, while the sneaker meaning is from 1985.

So that’s how sneaker slang runs in the U.S. How about across the pond?

Running shoes, training shoes, and runners

The oldest term for a rubber-soled athletic shoe in British English seems to be running shoe, which originated around 1666, says the OED. (According to the Harvard Dialect Survey, about 1.42% of Americans refer to their Nikes as such.) Almost 200 years later, training shoe came about, and another 130 years later, the shortened trainer, which is also used in Glasgow, Scotland, says lexicographer Susie Dent in her book How to Talk Like a Local: From Cockney to Geordie, a national companion. The Australian English runner is from 1970.


First appearing in print in 1885, according to the OED, the now genericized brand name was suggested in 1876 by “an energetic sales representative” of the Liverpool Rubber Company “for the new canvas rubber shoes or sand shoes then becoming fashionable for wear on seaside beaches.” The shoes’ rubber band reminded the sales rep of the Plimsoll Line, which marks “the limit of safety to which merchant ships can be loaded.” Similarly, the shoes’ own “water-band” marked how far they could be immersed in water and still remain “water-tight.”

Variations include plimmies and plimsoles, influenced by sole, the underside of a shoe or foot, and used by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake: “Their blankets and materny mufflers and plimsoles.”

For even more on plimsolls and sneaker speak, check out this great post from Fritinancy.

Pump(s) up the jam

Like Dent says, the word pump has been used to describe a variety of shoes since 1555, including a “close-fitting, low-heeled shoe,” slippers, and a shoe for acrobats and dancers. It seems to be around 1897, says the OED, that pumps also referred to sneakers. From the Sears, Roebuck catalog: “Men’s gymnasium shoes… Men’s low cut canvas pumps, canvas sole, [etc.].” Now pump is a regional term, which, says Dent, “dominates the North and Midlands.”

Track shoes and daps

About a decade after pump came track-shoe, followed in 1924 by dap, which might come from the verb sense of the same word meaning to dip lightly, or to skip or bounce.

Sannies, gutties, and tackies (oh my)

According to Dent, sandshoes or sannies have been around since the mid-19th century, and are standard terms in Scotland as well as “the North-East as far south as Hull.”

Gutties is another sneaker saying from Scotland. According to the Herald Scotland, guttie comes from gutta-percha, “a rubbery substance derived from the latex” of certain tropical trees, and “used as an electrical insulator, as a waterproofing compound, and in golf balls” (A gutta or gutty is a golf ball made of such material.) Gutta-percha is Malay in origin, where getah means “sap” and perca, “strip of cloth.”

Tackies is said in South Africa, but the word is “apparently not Afrikaans,” says the OED. It might come from tacky meaning slight sticky or gummy to the touch.

What are you wearing? Mutton dummy.

The curious and wonderful mutton dummy is a Northern Irish term. According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, it might have originated in the 1930s, “possibly from mutton cloth, ‘a type of cotton cloth used to wrap meat’ (from the resemblance to the material from which the shoes are made),” and dummy, “with reference to the lack of noise they make.”

Puss boot is from Jamaican English, and probably represents “a humorous folk reference to the soft tread of a person in such shoes,” says the OED.

What do you call sneakers?



Our Favorite Eponyms: 10 Common Words Named After People


It’s Bowdler’s Day, which, while not exactly a day to celebrate (it’s the birthday of Thomas Bowdler, an English physician best known for publishing a censored edition of Shakespeare), does give us an excuse to write about eponyms like bowdlerize, or to remove or change parts of a text considered offensive or vulgar. Here are 10 more common words you might not know come from the names of people.


“He [sc. Mr Savelle] advised the people to ‘Boycott’ any man who betrayed them by taking such land.”

Glasgow Herald, November 1, 1880

Long before it was Twitter hashtag and call to action, boycott was the name of one Charles C. Boycott, an English land agent in Ireland. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Boycott refused to lower the rent for his tenant farmers, resulting in ostracism by the Irish Land League as well as the prompt adoption of his name to mean to abstain from using, buying, or dealing with as a form of protest.


“The Bee says the daughter of Dr. Hanson, of this city, appeared in the Bloomer suit … last week.”

Boston Evening Transcript, May 27, 1851

Perhaps you thought these old-timey women’s trousers were named for the way they seem to bloom from waist to knee, but they were actually in honor of women’s rights advocate Amelia Bloomer, who promoted and wore them herself instead of the long skirts and confining corsets of the time.


“Norris and Warner want to be fashionable. They are cultivating side-burns.”

Indianapolis People, April 8, 1876

Hipsters everywhere can thank Civil War Union general A.E. Burnside for this facial hair fad. Burnside refers specifically to a style of beard with a mustache, whiskers on the cheeks, and a clean-shaven chin. Sideburn, just the hair from temple down, is an alteration of the burnside and perhaps influenced by side-whisker.


Leotards … are used by acrobats and aerial performers.”

J.W. Mansfield, Letter, January 1920

French acrobat and aerialist Jules Léotard gave us a lot. He developed the art of trapeze and inspired the song, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” He also popularized and gave his name to the stretchy one-piece garment favored by dancers, gymnasts, and aerobics enthusiasts.


“Of nicotin. This substance exists in the leaves of the nicotiana latifolia, or tobacco, and gives that plant its peculiar properties.”

Thomas Thomson, A System of Chemistry, In Four Volumes, 1817

This “colorless, poisonous alkaloid” is “used as an insecticide.” It’s also the addictive substance in tobacco. Jean Nicot was a 16th-century French ambassador and lexicographer, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). When he returned from Portugal, he brought back tobacco, which was an instant hit in the royal court.

The word nicotian, named after Nicot, first referred to the tobacco plant itself. By the early 19th century, nicotine referred to the substance in tobacco.


“Carr would almost have forgotten her existence, had it not been for those eyes which mesmerised him every now and then, in spite of himself.”

Hamilton Aïdé, Carr of Carrlyon, 1862

You might be mesmerized to know the word mesmerize comes from the name of an Austrian physician. Friedrich Anton Mesmer was a proponent of mesmerism, a kind of hypnotism that involves animal magnetism, a special power one holds over others. Later, the term came to mean magnetic charm or sex appeal in general.


“We … will crush radicals, greenbackers and all other foes of democracy, especially those independent gentlemen, those political mavericks.”

The Galveston Daily News, August 19, 1884

If you’re a maverick, you might be a dissenter or independent thinker. Or you might be an unbranded calf. Either way you might also be named for Samuel A. Maverick, a Texas lawyer who refused to brand his cattle.


“He was wounded on the mouth and ankle by a piece of shrapnel.”

Highland Light Infantry Chronicle, October 1914

The word shrapnel is named for General Henry Shrapnel, a British army officer who “invented a type of exploding, fragmenting shell” consisting of “a hollow cannon ball, filled with shot, which burst in mid-air.” The general’s less catchy moniker for his invention was “spherical case ammunition.”


“But now in our age it is growne to be a common prouerbe in derision, to call such a person as is senselesse or without learning a Duns, which is as much as a foole.”

Francis Thynne, Holinshed’s Chronicles, 1587

The word dunce hasn’t always meant, well, dunce. Named for Scottish scholastic theologian John Duns Scotus, it first referred to a follower of Duns’s teachings, says the OED. Then it gained the derisive meaning of “a hair-splitting reasoner,” due to later philosophers who ridiculed his work, as well as “a dull pedant” and finally someone dull-witted.

Dunce cap might have first been used by Charles Dickens in his novel, The Old Curiosity Shop: “Displayed on hooks upon the wall in all their terrors, were the cane and ruler; and near them, on a small shelf of its own, the dunce’s cap, made of old newspapers and decorated with glaring wafers of the largest size.”


“The following are live-bearing tropicals: … Guppy (Lebistes reticulatus). Males small and brilliantly colored.”

Aquatic Life, November 1925

This small, brightly-colored fish is named for Robert John Lechmere Guppy, the British-born naturalist “who sent the first recorded specimen to the British Museum,” according to the OED.

Of course this is all just the tip of the eponymic iceberg. Check out this list for a lot more common words derived from names, as well as toponyms (words from place names) and genericized trademarks.

What are some of your favorite eponyms?

The language of colors

One of our favorite “buzzworthy” words so far this year is the Japanese mizu. Translating as “water,” mizu isn’t just a shade of blue but a light blue its own color, as GOOD puts it. That got us wondering about other colorful untranslatables.

Kind of blues

What color is this?


Pink, right? Not “light red” (and certainly not Millennial Pink). Just as English speakers automatically differentiate between pink and red, speakers of other languages do the same for what we call light blue and dark blue. (In Chinese, by the way, pink, fěn hóng or “powder red,” is considered a shade of red.)

Modern Hebrew has Tchelet for light blue and Kachol for dark. Turkish considers navy blue, or lacivert, separate from light blue, what they call mavi, with lacivert coming from the Persian word for “lapis lazuli” and mavi coming from the Arabic word for “water.” Russian speakers do the same with light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy).

Now you might think that regardless of color words, we must all perceive color the same way, right? Researchers at MIT would say wrong. A study from 2007 found that native Russian speakers were quicker to distinguish light from dark blues than native English speakers.

No blues

It might be hard to imagine a world without blue. It’s the favorite color of the majority of Americans (at least according to a few different surveys). Crayola has about 35 shades of it (not including their newest one which you can help name). Then there’s that damned dress.

But some ancient cultures may not have had the color, or at least didn’t make the distinction from others. Business Insider (by way of Science Alert) says several ancient texts don’t contain the word “blue.” For instance, “in the Odyssey, Homer describes the ocean as ‘wine-dark’ and other strange hues, but he never uses the word ‘blue’.” A philologist analyzed “ancient Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts, to find no mention of the word blue.” The Egyptians, the only culture at the time to make blue dyes, seem to be the first to have a word for that particular hue.

It’s not easy being blue/green

Some modern languages also don’t make the distinction between blue and green. Pashto, a language in Iran, uses the same word, shīn. To make the distinction, a Pashto speaker might say “shīn like the sky” or “shīn like the grass.” Vietnamese is similar, using xanh for both and specifying “like the sky” or “like the leaves.”

The Yukatek Maya language uses yax while the Yebamasa of the Rio Piraparana region in Colombia say sumese. Bantu languages Zulu, Xhosa, and Tswana also use the same word for both colors. Zulu and Xhosa employ the suffix -luhlaza while Tswana uses tala.

Just a few hues

The Himba people of Namibia not only call blue and green by the same name, they have only four color terms total (other languages have 11 or 12). Buru refers to particular shades of green and blue; dambu to red, brown, and other shades of green; zuzu to dark shades of blue, red, green, and purple; and vapa to white and some shades of yellow.

So if having two different words for light and dark blue affects native Russian speakers’ perception of color, how does having fewer color words affect Himba people’s perception? Jules Davidoff of Goldsmiths University of London conducted a study with some Himba members and found they had a difficult time distinguishing blue from green. However, they were able to detect very subtle differences between shades of green.

Red-green, you’re being impossible

Then there are what are called impossible or forbidden colors — that is, colors the human eye can’t see.

As How Stuff Works explains it, color-sensing cells called cones are what make us able to see certain colors. Other cells called opponent neurons process electrical signals from the cones. The two types of opponent neurons — red-green and blue-yellow — signal, respectively, either red or green and either blue or yellow, but not both. Which is why the human eye can’t detect blue-yellow or red-green. (Keep in mind blue-yellow and red-green are colors on their own, not a mixture of two.)

However, some experiments have shown it’s possible to see impossible hues. You can even train yourself to see them.

Colors of invention

Now how about those colors that only exist in fictional worlds? As you can imagine, there are a lot. Here are a few of our favorites.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, hooloovoo is highly intelligent, sentient shade of blue. The Doctor of Doctor Who mentions seeing one in the episode, The Rings of Akhaten: “There go some Panbabylonians. A Lugal-Irra-Kush. Some Lucanians. A Hooloovoo.”

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, octarine, a kind of fluorescent greenish-yellow purple, is the color of magic. Also referred to as the eighth color (in addition to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), it can only be seen by cats and wizards. The prefix octa- means eight while the suffix -ine means “of or relating to.”

In The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, fuligin is a color that’s described as “darker than black” and “the color of soot.” The term fuligin might come from fūlīgō, the Latin word for soot. Real-life blacker than black colors include super black, which NASA developed to absorb light across multiple wavelength bands, and Vantablack, a kind of super black material which absorbs “all but 0.035 percent of visible light.”

What are some of your favorite color words?

Words from Walt Whitman: More Than Barbaric Yawps


While best known for his “barbaric yawp,” poet and journalist Walt Whitman was also the creator of words, several of which we still use today. On his birthday, we take a look at six words and phrases Whitman coined or popularized.

open road

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road!”

Song of the Open Road,” 1857

The term open road originally referred to a country road, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “outside the urban areas, where unimpeded driving is possible.” The figurative sense of “freedom of movement” was first used by Whitman in a poem in his collection, Leaves of Grass.


“Besides the hospitals, I also go occasionally on long tours through the camps, talking with the men, &c. Sometimes at night among the groups around the fires, in their shebang enclosures of bushes.”

Specimen Days,” The Complete Prose Works of Walt Whitman, 1862

Before shebang became the whole shebang, Whitman used it to mean a shanty or temporary living quarters. He might have picked it up from Civil War soldiers who, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, popularized the phrase. The word might be an alteration of shebeen, meaning an unlicensed drinking establishment, but the tavern sense of shebang came after the Civil War.

Shebang came to mean any situation or matter of concern around 1869 or earlier, says the OED, which lists Mark Twain’s as the earliest recorded usage: “I like the book, I like you and your style and your business vim, and believe the chebang will be a success.”


Trib: of July 4 to Rob’t Buchanan, Oban S.”

Daybook, 1878

Whitman may have been the first to nickname a U.S. newspaper with “tribune” in its title (e.g., the Chicago Tribune) the Trib.


“There shall be countless linked hands—namely, the Northeasterner‘s, and the Northwesterner’s, and the Southwesterner’s, and those of the interior.”

Leaves of Grass, 1860

If you call yourself a northeasterner, you have Whitman to thank. He was also the first to use native state words Kansian, Oregonese, and Utahan.


“When the fire-flashing guns have fully alerted me.”

A Broadway Pageant,” 1860

Before the 20th century, using alert as a verb was rare, says the OED. Whitman’s is the earliest recorded usage.


“Some three or four hundred more escapees from the confederate army came up on the boat.”

Specimen Days,” 1875–1876

While Whitman’s recorded usage is from the 1870s, the Online Etymology Dictionary says escapee came about in American English around 1865, perhaps, like shebang, in association with Civil War soldiers.

8 Old-Timey Names for a Soft Drink

In coke, I trust

Depending on where you live in the United States, you might have a different name for a sweet, carbonated beverage. Live on the west coast or in the northeast? It’s soda. The midwest? That’s pop. Parts of the south? Coke (even if it’s Sprite).

But how about what Americans used to call fizzy sugar water? With our friends at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), we bring you eight old-timey names for a soft drink.

soft beer

This old-fashioned name was used especially in Maine. A 1925 quote in DARE says that “even today in the remote northern part of Maine, carbonated beverages are referred to as ‘soft beer.’” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, small beer refers to weak or inferior beer, and, by extension, unimportant, trivial things. To think small beer of is to think lowly of someone or something, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

soda dope

This old-timey term might have been used especially in North Carolina. Also sodey dope, sody dope, or just dope, a southern colloquialism for a soft drink.


While some of us might equate tonic with tonic water, a quinine-flavored carbonated drink, in New England, it refers to a carbonated soft drink in general.

bottled drink

This vintage phrase was chiefly used in the South, especially North Carolina. Also bottle drink.

cold drink

If you happen to be in the Lower Mississippi Valley and someone offers you a cold drink, you can expect a non-alcoholic, carbonated, bottled beverage that won’t necessarily be cold, at least according to one quote in DARE.


“I need a drink!” some of us might say when we crave a cocktail. But in the southern region, such a term refers to a booze-free, bubbly beverage.

soda water

To some of us soda water might refer to “a solution of water, sodium bicarbonate, and acid,” but to some, especially in Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley, it refers to carbonated water that’s been sweetened and flavored.

belly wash

This saying originally referred to a drink, usually alcoholic, of poor quality, but in some regions of the U.S. it means any soft drink, usually carbonated. Usage is scattered throughout the country. The Journal of American Folklore cites a 1964 quote from a central Pennsylvania resident: “We had a plant in our town which bottled pop, and we boys would go to the ‘belly-wash factory.’”

What do you call a carbonated soft drink? Tell us in the comments!

The language of instant noodles

Chicken ramen

Top Ramen. Oodles of Noodles. Stroke in a bowl. Whatever you call instant noodles, you have one man to thank: Momofuku Ando, born on this day in 1910.

Originally from Taiwan, Ando moved to Osaka in his early 20s. After World War II, he witnessed the ravages of war, including food shortages. In response he embarked on a quest to invent noodles that were “tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare.” In 1958, at the age of 48, he introduced Chicken Ramen, and 13 years later, Cup Noodles, inspired by Americans using Styrofoam cups as makeshift ramen bowls.

Since then the popularity of instant noodles has spread around the world, and with it, its different monikers. Today we slurp up the language of instant ramen.

Kappu men (Japan)

Let’s start where it all began. Instant noodles are often referred to by the genericized brand name, kappu men, what Americans know as Cup Noodles. Kappu is a “Japanification” of the word “cup” while men is the Japanese for “noodles.”

Pao mian (Taiwan)

Pao mian translates literally as “add hot water noodles.” (Pao Mian Ba, which means something like, “Let’s make instant noodles,” is known as the Codecademy of China.) Some Taiwan natives might also call instant noodles sun lih men. a brand introduced in the late 1960s.

Fang bian mian (China)

Those in the mainland turn to fang bian mian for a quick meal. The catchy rhyming phrase translates as “convenient noodles.” However, searching for fang bian mian on Weibo, a popular microblogging site, may turn up no results. The term was blocked back in 2014 because of its circuitous connection with Zhou Yongkang, a retired senior leader convicted for corruption.

Doll noodles (Hong Kong)

Hong Kongers in a rush might grab a bowl of gong je mein or doll noodles. Named for the little guy on the Nissin package, the term now refers to any brand.

Ramyeon (Korea)

Spicy ramyeon or ramyun comes from a brand name too, Shin Ramyun. Want to add some zing to your instant meal? Here are 13 ways of livening up a bowl of ramyeon.

Indomie (Indonesia)

Indomie is a brand that was introduced in Indonesia in the late 1960s, and has “become synonymous with instant noodles.” Warung indomie are small shops that sell cooked instant noodles, regardless of brand.

Maggi (Malaysia)

Maggi is a popular brand that’s become synonymous with instant noodles in general. They’re eaten at home and served in mamak food stalls. Maggi goreng is a kind of stir-fried dish that uses instant noodles. In 2015, Maggi noodles were banned in India for several months over health concerns.

Instant mami (Philippines)

Mami is a kind of noodle soup said to be invented by chef and entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk, who was born in China around 1896 and emigrated to the Philippines in 1918. Mami supposedly comes from a combination of the inventor’s name, Ma, and mi-ki, the Chinese word for egg noodles.

Mama (Thailand)

While Mama instant noodles aren’t the only brand in Thailand, they might be “the byword for for all types of instant noodles” in the country. Mama noodles are often used in other dishes such as phat mama, stir-fried instant noodles, and yum mama, noodle salad that uses instant noodles. Or you might make like Thai-American model Chrissy Teigen and add Mama instant noodles to your mother’s homemade tomyum broth.

Miojo (Brazil)

In Brazil, instant noodles might be called miojo, named for the brand that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its presence in the Brazilian market in 2014.

Maruchan (Mexico)

This brand is so popular in Mexico, one paper dubbed the country Maruchan Nation. Another name for instant noodles might be sopa para flojos, or “lazy people’s soup.”

Two-minute noodles (Australia)

Got two minutes down under? Then you can make a meal of instant noodles.

Pot Noodles (United Kingdom)

A popular brand introduced in the late 1970s, Pot Noodles have been associated with what’s called “lad culture.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes lad culture as “attitudes and behaviour considered to be typical of a ‘lad,’” or:

A young man characterized by his enjoyment of social drinking, sport, and other activities considered to be male-oriented, his engagement in casual sexual relationships, and often by attitudes or behaviour regarded as irresponsible, sexist, or boorish.

A 2013 New Statesman article calls Pot Noodles “Lad Culture in snack form,” complete with “drooling, retrograde sexism,” and a pretty offensive ad campaign. Since then, however, Pot Noodles has attempted to change their tune.

18 Linguistic (And Literal) Animal Blends

2 Zonkeys

You may have heard of the pizzly, a cross between polar and grizzly bears. Normally, never the twain shall meet: polar bears are marine mammals, says the Washington Post, while grizzlies are landlubbers. However, the twain are meeting now as sea ice shrinks and the tundra expands.

Pizzlies (or grolars if you prefer) got us thinking about other animal mixes. Check out these 18 linguistic and literal beastly blends.

Tigon, liger

These tiger hybrids are perhaps the most well-known of unusual animal fusions. A tigon is a cross between a male tiger and a female lion while a liger is the product of a male lion and a female tiger. Slate warns that while crossbreeding two big cats may seem like a no-brainer, there are downsides. For instance, ligers can “suffer from unsustainable growth.” Often, as a result, “their hearts give out.”

The word tigon first appeared in English in the late 1920s, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The first tigon may have been shown in a touring British circus in the 19th century while one of the most famous early tigons was presented to the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park in 1924 or 1928. While the first ligers on record may be from 1824, the word didn’t appear in print until about 1938.

Leopon, jagulep

A leopon is the product of a leopard and a lion, and may have first been bred in the early 20th century. A jagulep is what you get when you cross a jaguar and leopard.

The leopard itself was originally thought to be a hybrid, specifically between a lion and a panther, says Online Etymology Dictionary. The word is from the late 13th century and comes from the Late Latin leopardus, literally “lion-panther.” The word jaguar is from about 1600 and is Portuguese in origin, ultimately coming from the Guarani jaguá, yaguar, “dog.”

Coydog, wolf dog, coywolf

While you won’t find any labradoodles or cockapoos here (check out our classic dog words post for those), you will find these coyote, wolf, and dog concoctions. The coydog isn’t a shy Fido but the result of a coyote and feral dog pairing. A wolf dog, while also a dog trained to hunt wolves, is the lovechild of a wolf and a dog. Finally, a coywolf is the output of a coyote-wolf union.


What do you get when you cross a female bottlenose dolphin and a male false killer whale? A wholphin of course.

The word wholphin is a medley of Old English and Greek parts. The word whale is from the ninth century and comes from the Old English hwæl. Dolphin is from the 14th century and ultimately comes from the Greek delphis, which is related to delphys, “womb,” possibly from the idea “of the animal bearing live young, or from its shape.”

Mule, hinny

A mule may not be exotic, but it is indeed an amalgam, in this case of a male donkey and female horse. Meanwhile, a hinny is a mix between a male horse and a female donkey.

While infertile, mules might be considered a result of hybrid vigor, also known as heterosis, in which “increased vigor or other superior qualities [arise] from the crossbreeding of genetically different plants or animals.” Mules are stronger than horses of similar size yet eat less, and have the endurance and independence of donkeys.

The word mule is from the 12th century and is Latin in origin. Hinny is from the 1680s and comes from the Greek innos, which has the same sense but is of unknown origin.

Zonkey, zorse, zebrinny

A zebra hybrid is known as a zebroid, a term attested to 1899, according to the OED: “The zebroid, or hybrid between the horse and the zebra, ‘will be the mule of the 20th century’.” Zebroids include the zonkey, a cross between a zebra and donkey; the zorse, the offspring of a female horse and male zebra; and the zebrinny, that of a male horse and female zebra. The term zebrinny was coined by one Professor E. C. Ewart. Like mules, zebroids are almost always infertile, says Slate, and sometimes experience dwarfism.

Dzo, zobo, yakalo

The dzo, zobo, and yakalo are, you guessed it, yaks crossed with, respectively, a domesticated cow, a zebu, and the American bison or buffalo.

The dzo is the sterile male while the dzomo is the fertile female. Like the mule, they’re a product of hybrid vigor, and are considered larger and stronger than other yak and cattle in the region. The words dzo, dzomo, zobo, and yak are Tibetan in origin. Yak, which comes from gyag, is thought to be imitative.


No, not that not that Jeep. A geep is a sheep-goat hybrid. Such successful matings are rare, says Modern Farmer, and “most resulting pregnancies are never carried to term.” Understandably, some experts are suspicious of those claiming to have a real-life geep on their hands. “There are lots of anecdotes floating around about these hybrids,” says a professor from UC Davis, “but there are very few legitimate documented cases.”


The cama is what you get when you cross two long-necked creatures. Size-wise, the infertile cama is between the camel and the llama, says Slate. It doesn’t have a hump but it does “seem to have a thicker bone structure than” a llama. Its coat is “long-haired and llama-y while the tail is more camelicious—which is also the name of a popular camel milk brand, FYI.”

For even more animal hybrids, check out this list.