hip·​po·​pot·​a·​mus | \ ˌhi-pə-ˈpä-tə-məs How to pronounce hippopotamus (audio) \
plural hippopotamuses or hippopotami\ ˌhi-​pə-​ˈpä-​tə-​ˌmī How to pronounce hippopotamus (audio) , -​(ˌ)mē \

Definition of hippopotamus

: any of a family (Hippopotamidae) of very large, four-toed, chiefly aquatic, herbivorous artiodactyl mammals having a very large head and mouth, nearly hairless thick grayish skin, long lower canine teeth, and relatively short legs, and including two living species:
a : one (Hippopotamus amphibius) of sub-Saharan Africa that has webbing between the toes, spends most of the day in or near water, and typically weighs between 3 to 4 tons (2700 to 3600 kilograms)

Illustration of hippopotamus

Illustration of hippopotamus

Examples of hippopotamus in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Amounts that would have choked a hippopotamus two years ago now go down easy. Steve Chapman, chicagotribune.com, "Column: The dangers of Biden’s spending binge," 30 Apr. 2021 Now Timothy the hippopotamus, Brayden the giraffe and other S.A. zoo creatures have earned more than 20,000 likes on Facebook alone. René A. Guzman, San Antonio Express-News, "San Antonio Zoo's #ZooGlamourShots hashtag and animal photos go wild on social media," 13 Apr. 2021 The urban legend is that the song was recorded as a fundraiser to get a hippopotamus at a local zoo, but apparently that's not the reality. Abigail Rosenthal, Chron, "These 5 Christmas songs should be banned from the radio," 18 Nov. 2020 In 1911, zoo superintendent Frank Baker reportedly resorted to chance to choose the name of a new baby hippopotamus. Washington Post, "pick a name for a celebrity infant at the National Zoo," 17 Nov. 2020 One famous story has to do with the hippopotamus’ tail. San Diego Union-Tribune, "From the Archives: 95 years ago Belle Jennings Benchley joined the San Diego Zoo," 20 Oct. 2020 Buffon and others puzzled over the leg bones, resembling those of modern elephants, and the knobby teeth that looked like those of a hippopotamus and speculated that these fossils represented a mixture of two different kinds of mammals. Hans-dieter Sues, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Story of Charles Willson Peale’s Massive Mastodon," 6 May 2020 Ahram Online, the shoes are adorned with engravings of Bes, the protector god of pregnant women and children, and Taweret, a goddess whose appearance combines aspects of a hippopotamus, a crocodile and a human woman. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "Archaeologists Discover Teenage Mummy Buried With Trove of Ornate Jewelry," 7 May 2020 For ages 24 months and up, this inflatable hippopotamus pool comes equipped with a wading area and a mini slide. Naveen Kumar, CNN Underscored, "How to turn your backyard into a water park this summer," 29 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hippopotamus.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of hippopotamus

1542, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hippopotamus

Latin, from Greek hippopotamos, alteration of hippos potamios, literally, riverine horse

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Time Traveler for hippopotamus

Time Traveler

The first known use of hippopotamus was in 1542

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Statistics for hippopotamus

Last Updated

8 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hippopotamus.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hippopotamus. Accessed 12 May. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of hippopotamus

: a large African animal that has an extremely large head and mouth and short legs and that spends most of its time in water


hip·​po·​pot·​a·​mus | \ ˌhi-pə-ˈpä-tə-məs How to pronounce hippopotamus (audio) \
plural hippopotamuses or hippopotami\ -​ˌmī \

Kids Definition of hippopotamus

: a large African animal with thick hairless brownish gray skin, a big head, and short legs that eats plants and spends most of its time in rivers

More from Merriam-Webster on hippopotamus

Nglish: Translation of hippopotamus for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hippopotamus

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