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elephant (n.)

c. 1300, olyfaunt, from Old French olifant (12c., Modern French éléphant), from Latin elephantus, from Greek elephas (genitive elephantos) "elephant; ivory," probably from a non-Indo-European language, likely via Phoenician (compare Hamitic elu "elephant," source of the word for it in many Semitic languages, or possibly from Sanskrit ibhah "elephant").

Re-spelled after 1550 on Latin model. Cognate with the common term for the animal in Romanic and Germanic; Slavic words (for example Polish slon', Russian slonu) are from a different word. Old English had it as elpend, and compare elpendban, elpentoð "ivory," but a confusion of exotic animals led to olfend "camel."

Herodotus mentions the (African) elephant, which in ancient times and until 7c. C.E. was found north of the Sahara as well. Frazer (notes to Pausanias's "Description of Greece," 1898) writes that "Ptolemy Philadelphius, king of Egypt (283-247 B.C.), was first to tame the African elephant and use it in war; his elephants were brought from Nubia," and the Carthaginians probably borrowed the idea from him; "for in the Carthaginian army which defeated Regulus in 255 B.C. there were about 100 elephants .... It was easy for the Carthaginians to procure elephants, since in antiquity the animal was found native in the regions of North Africa now known as Tripoli and Morocco (Pliny, N.H. viii.32)."

As an emblem of the Republican Party in U.S. politics, 1860. To see the elephant "be acquainted with life, gain knowledge by experience" is an American English colloquialism from 1835. The elephant joke was popular 1960s-70s.

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oliphant (n.)

obsolete form of elephant (q.v.), c. 1200; also used in Middle English with sense "ivory horn." Compare camel.

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elephantine (adj.)
1620s, "huge," from Latin elephantinus "pertaining to the elephant," from elephantus (see elephant). Meaning "pertaining to elephants" is from 1670s. Earlier adjective was elephantic (1590s).
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chryselephantine (adj.)

of ancient statues, "overlaid with gold and ivory," 1816, probably via German, from Latinized form of Greek khryselephantinos, from khrysos "gold" (see chryso-) + elephantinos "made of ivory," from elephans (genitive elephantos) "elephant; ivory" (see elephant).

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elephantiasis (n.)
1580s, from Greek elephantos, genitive of elephas "elephant" (see elephant) + -iasis "pathological or morbid condition." It refers to two diseases, one characterized by thickening of a body part (E. Arabum), the other, older meaning is "disease characterized by skin resembling an elephant's" (E. Græcorum, also called Egyptian leprosy). In Middle English, elephancy (late 14c.).
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white elephant (n.)
"burdensome charge, inconvenient thing that one does not know how to get rid of," 1851, supposedly from the practice of the King of Siam of presenting one of the sacred albino elephants to a courtier who had fallen from favor; the gift was a great honor, but the proper upkeep of one was ruinously expensive.
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howdah (n.)
"seat on the back of an elephant for two or more to ride," 1774, from Persian and Urdu haudah, from Arabic haudaj "litter carried by a camel" (or elephant).
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heffalump (n.)
imaginary creature, 1926 (A.A. Milne), from a child's pronunciation of elephant.
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must (n.3)

"male elephant frenzy," 1878, from earlier adjective (1855), from Urdu mast "intoxicated, in rut," from Persian mast, literally "intoxicated," related to Sanskrit matta- "drunk, intoxicated," past participle of madati "boils, bubbles, gets drunk," from PIE root *mad- "wet, moist" (see mast (n.2)).

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anaconda (n.)
1768, a name first used in English to name a Ceylonese python, it was applied erroneously to a large South American boa, called in Brazil sucuriuba. The word is of uncertain origin, and no similar snake name is found now in Sinhalese or Tamil. One suggestion is that it is a Latinization of Sinhalese henacandaya "whip snake," literally "lightning-stem" [Barnhart]. Another suggestion is that it represents Tamil anaikkonda "having killed an elephant" [OED].
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