By Amelia Meyer
The term “etymology” refers to the origin of a word, in terms of its root language, context and dating. Studying the origins of various words reveals an incredible amount about their history, and even helps to define the word to some extent.
The word “rhinoceros” has been dated back to approximately 1 300 of our Common Era (CE). Originally a Greek word, it was spelt rhinokeros. “Rhinos” means “nose” and “keras” means “horn, referring to the characteristic horn that sits perched in the centre of the animal’s face.
It was only in 1884 that the first occurrence of “rhinoceros” being shortened to “rhino” was documented. This abbreviation has remained popular to our modern day, particularly for children that struggle to pronounce the full formal name. Today, the word “rhino” is a perfectly acceptable term for these gentle giants, even appearing in formal brochures and books.
The plural of rhinoceros can either stay the same as the singular (that is;one rhinoceros, ten rhinoceros) or be rhinoceroses, which is slightly less common. It is felt by some that the latter does not flow well off the tongue and sounds somewhat awkward. The formal plural, which is hardly ever used, is actually rhinocerotes, explained by Sir Charles Eliot in his 1905 publication "The East Africa Protectorate".
Interestingly, the word “rhinoceros” was used as a slang term for money or cash in the late 17th century, much in the same way as we use “dough” or “bucks” today.
Because “rhino” refers to the nose, it is used as the root word for a host of other nose-related terms today. Many of these terms refer to human beings. For example:
Rhinitis the inflammation of the nasal passages, also sometimes known as a post-nasal drip. This is characterised by running, stuffy noses that are often aggravated by dust, perfumes, pollen, and so on.
Rhinocephaly a physical malformation that leaves newborn babies with a tube-like structure as a nose. This is a serious condition that causes major disfigurements.
Rhinism a human voice that sounds particularly nasal.
Rhinoplasty plastic surgery to the nose for aesthetic purposes. This is more common amongst women who feel that their noses need to be smaller or more sculpted.