zorro - word origins

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by willarkin, Feb 9, 2013.

  1. willarkin Member

    UK English

    I am wondering if anyone might be able to shed a little light on something I find very interesting but cannot find a lot of information on.

    I have read that the etymology of the Spanish word "zorro" does not derive from the Latin (vulpes) - one theory is that it may derive from a Basque word - azari - another theory is that at some point in history, speaking the name of the fox (and some other animals) was considered bad luck, or may have been a taboo of some kind. So the Latin word was replaced by "zorro" which may mean something like "the red one".

    Is there any validity to this? I have read there are other "taboo" words which end up being replaced too - I would love to know more, and also to know when this happened - presumably some time during or after the Roman era in Iberia

    Thank you!
  2. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Be prepared for this thread to be moved to the Etymology Forum, since it doesn't deal with present-day usage.
    Your Basque azari is exactly what Vicente García de Diego's dictionary gives for the source of "zorra". (What does "azari" mean?)
    In Spanish, double R in a word of non-Latin origin traditionally sends etymologists looking toward Basque.
    Joan Corominas (also spelled Coromines) wrote—I think there's wide agreement on this—the most respected etymological dictionary of Spanish.
    But Corominas says nothing about Basque for "zorra/zorro".
    You are right (according to Corominas), that peasants often changed the name of the creature because of its bad reputation.
    He says "zorra" replaced "raposa", which itself had replaced "vulpeja".
    Most etymologies based on "onomatopeia" sound absurd to me, but Corominas doesn't usually engage in absurdities.
    He says the word comes from an old [Spanish] and Portuguese verb "zorrar", 'to drag', based on the sound of dragging oneself lazily around,
    and that "zorro" probably had an original meaning of "lazy bum".
    C says it first appears (meaning 'fox'?) in the middle of the 15th century.
    It's not listed in Kasten & Cody's Tentative Dictionary of Medieval Spanish.
    The noun is not in Martín Alonso's Diccionario medieval español, either, but the verb "zorrar" is there, said to mean "throw", and derived from "zorro", which is said to be...
    So there you have it. Or not.
  3. francisgranada Senior Member

    A non-Romance example (only for curiosity): the Hungarian word for fox is "róka" (from *ravka) which is a diminutive from the stem *rav meaning something like "tricky, tricksy, foxy, sly ...". This word is apparently a Hungarian innovation, i.e. a replacement of an original Finno-Ugric term word for fox. (I don't know if the reason is "taboo" or something else, but I find this "phenomenon" quite interesting ... )

    According to DRAE:
    zorro. (Cf. zorra) …
    zorra. (Del port. zorro, holgazán, y este der. de zorrar, arrastrar; cf. prov. mandra, zorra, propiamente, 'mandria, holgazán') …
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2013
  4. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Hola. En este hilo también hablan de la etimología de zorro / zorra. Saludos.
  5. willarkin Member

    UK English
    Thank you all for the responses - I had seen the other thread but was interesting in trying to find other examples of replacing taboo words, if indeed that is what happened with zorro - from your answers, perhaps it is all something of a canard

    All the best
  6. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)

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