c. 1200 (as a surname), from Old French grifon "a bird of prey," also "fabulous bird of Greek mythology" (with head and wings of an eagle, body and hind quarters of a lion, believed to inhabit Scythia and guard its gold), named for its hooked beak, from Late Latin gryphus, misspelling of grypus, variant of gryps (genitive grypos) "griffin," from Greek gryps (genitive grypos) "a griffin or dragon," literally "curved, hook-nosed" (opposed to simos).
Klein suggests a Semitic source, "through the medium of the Hittites," and cites Hebrew kerubh "a winged angel," Akkadian karibu, epithet of the bull-colossus (see cherub). The same or an identical word was used in mid-19c. Louisiana to mean "mulatto" (especially one one-quarter or two-fifths white) and in British India from 1793 to mean "newly arrived European," probably via notion of "strange hybrid animal."
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