Word Nerd: Guerrillas in the Mist

Columns Education Evergreen Geek Culture Word Nerd


Friday is National Gorilla Suit Day, a holiday invented by MAD‘s Maddest Artist, Don Martin. In honor of such an auspicious day, we’ll look at a problematic misuse of the word gorilla and its homophone, guerrilla.

Gorilla: A large hairy primate from the western parts of Africa.

Guerrilla: a member of an irregular, usually politically motivated armed force, usually fighting in opposition to an established force such as an army or other government force.

gorillaGuerrilla is a word that originates in the 19th century, drawn from the Spanish word for war, guerra.

Gorilla originates in the 5th century B.C., as the name of a race of hairy women described in Hanno’s account of his voyage along the coast of Africa. The term was applied to the great apes upon their discovery by European explorers around 1800.

This is yet another of those words that seemingly is only ever misused in one way; you’ll often see references to political insurgents as “gorillas,” but nobody ever refers to the apes as “guerrillas.”

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