Trivia

Hard

Which Animal’s Name Means “Person Of The Forest”?

Orangutan
Gibbon
Gorilla
Chimpanzee
An orangutan eating a mature coconut.
Eleifert/Wikimedia

Answer: Orangutan

Orangutans, familial friends of ours in the Hominidae family tree, have a name that harkens to their man-like shape. The exclusively Asian species of extant great ape derives its name from the languages of the countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, it is native to.

In Malay and Indonesian, orang means “person” and hutan means “forest.” The conjunction was originally used by natives of the region to refer to humans suffering from some type of serious medical condition (most likely endemic cretinism), but adopted (and perhaps misunderstood) by 17th-century European explorers to mean the great apes the explorers encountered on the islands.

Before we leave the topic of orangutans and the etymology of their man-of-the-forest name, a bit of lore regarding the apes is in order (and further reinforces the image of ape-as-human concept). When early explorers encountered orangutans, the Malaysians explained to them that the curious and highly intelligent apes could, in fact, speak but chose not to lest they be compelled to labor, a rather clever ploy to avoid a 9-5 job, we’re sure.

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