Fun Etymology Tuesday – Lemur

Another Tuesday = another Fun Etymology!

As I’ve done some nature-related words lately, I thought that we’d also take a look at some animal-words! So, today’s word is lemur!

Today, this word refers to this cute little guy/girl:
White and Black Animal Sitting on a Branch

A nocturnal mammal from Madagascar, the animal was first referred to as lemur by Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné), a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician, in his catalogue of the Museum of King Adolf Frederick of Sweden.

Before that, though, the word meant something quite different…

From lemures, the Latin plural of *lemur, this word actually referred to the “evil spirits of the dead”.

Other than the Latin word, the origin of this word is unknown. It is possible that the word was borrowed into Latin from a non-Indo-European language (perhaps Anatolian or Etruscan). It is also possible that it is cognate with the Greek word lamia, meaning “female vampire” or “man-eating monster”.

But that’s really speculative. We really don’t know, which is not uncommon in historical linguistics.

But, the real question here is:

What was it about these cute little fellows that made Linné think that a Latin word for malevolent spirits was an appropriate name?

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