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  • Paul Anthony Jones

Abominable snowman

(n.) the Yeti, a legendary creature said to inhabit the Himalayas mountains

If you’re into your unsolved mysteries, the tale of the Abominable Snowman is a brilliant one. If you’re an etymologist into unsolved mysteries, even better.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name Abominable Snowman dates back to 1921, when it was coined by an English journalist named Henry Newman. Newman was reporting for The Times newspaper from Darjeeling, India, where he interviewed several members of an expedition to Mount Everest, led by the explorer Sir Charles Howard-Bury.

While on the mountain, the expedition team had apparently spotted a set of enormous humanlike footprints in the snow, which the local Tibetan Sherpa guides told Newman they immediately recognised as belonging to a legendary monster known locally as metoh kangmi.

In his report, Newman interpreted this name as meaning ‘abominable snowman’—but while his reading of the Tibetan word kangmi, literally ‘snow-man’, was correct, metoh is actually much closer in meaning to ‘dirty’, ‘scruffy’, or ‘dishevelled’ than it is to ‘abominable’.

Nevertheless, Newman’s version of the name soon stuck, and has remained in use ever since.

As for yeti? That’s apparently another Tibetan compound, bringing together gya, meaning ‘rock-strewn place’ and dred, meaning ‘bear’.

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