Ah, the very first Fun Etymology of the new year – like new-car smell, it never gets old.
Today’s word is aardvark!
This cute little animal is actually a South African groundhog!
Looking a bit more like a pig (sporting some donkey- or rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo-like tail), it is clear that our ancestors thought so too as the word aardvark comes from Afrikaans Dutch aardvark, literally meaning “earth pig”.
The name can be divided in two: aard, meaning “earth”, and vark, meaning “pig”.
Aard- comes from Proto-Germanic *ertho-, potentially an extended form of the PIE root *er-, meaning “earth, ground”.
-vark comes from Middle Dutch varken, meaning “small pig”, which comes from Proto-Germanic *farhaz, meaning “young pig, sucking pig”. This comes from the PIE root *porko-, meaning “young pig”.
However, the aardvark is actually not related to pigs at all (or donkeys, rabbits or kangaroos for that matter).
It is actually the only living species of the order Tubulidentata (or Orycteropodidae), a family of afrotherian mammals!
So, despite that its looks and its name’s etymology might appear to suggest otherwise, the aardvark is actually quite unique in the current animal kingdom!
aardvark (n.) with related entries in the Online Etymology Dictionary
The Aardvark in the National Geographic