olin·​go | \ ō-ˈliŋ-ˌgō How to pronounce olingo (audio) \
plural olingos

Definition of olingo

: any of several slender-bodied, nocturnal, tree-dwelling mammals (genus Bassaricyon of the family Procyonidae) of Central and South American forests that are grayish to yellowish brown, have a long, bushy, faintly ringed tail, large eyes, and pointed snout, and are closely related to the raccoon and coatis

Note: Olingos feed primarily on fruit but their diet may include nectar, flowers, insects, and small animals (as mice and birds). The olingo resembles another member of its family, the kinkajou, but unlike the kinkajou, does not possess a prehensile tail.

First Known Use of olingo

1920, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for olingo

borrowed from Panamanian Spanish, probably the same word as Honduran Spanish olingo "howler monkey," of undetermined origin

Note: The word was introduced by the American zoologist Edward A. Goldman in Mammals of Panama (Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 69, no. 5, 1920): "Several native hunters readily identified the specimen [of Bassaricyon gabbii] as an olingo, a name they also apply to Potos [the kinkajou genus], and I found that they made no distinction between the two animals" (p. 157). There appears to be no other record of olingo applied to these animals in the Spanish of Panama. In a subsequent publication by the zoologists Glover M. Allen and Thomas Barbour ("Mammals from Darien," Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College, vol. 65, no. 8, February, 1923), the authors comment: "Goldman correctly gives 'Cusimbí' as the native name for the Isthmian Kinkajou and 'Olingo' for the Chiriquian race, and for the races of Bassaricyon as well. It was, however, impossible to find anyone in Panama who had ever heard of the latter name" (p. 268). In Honduras the word olingo is known as a name for the howler monkey Alouatta palliata (see Alberto Membreño, Hondureñismos, 2. edición, Tegucigalpa, 1897, and later records). The word was noted earlier by the Baltic German naturalist Jegór von Sivers, on the lower Ulúa River in northwestern Honduras: "Am nächsten Morgen erfuhr ich, dass das Gebrüll von Brüllaffen (Mycetes seniculus), von den Indianer dieser Gegend Olingo, in Nicaragua Congo genannt, herrührte." ("The next morning I learned that the bellowing came from howler monkeys, called olingo by the Indians of this area, and called congo in Nicaragua." Ueber Madeira und die Antillen nach Mittelamerika: Reisendenkwürdigkeiten und Forschungen, Leipzig, 1861, p. 85.) Sivers' characterization of the local people as "Indianer" may simply be a reflection on their appearance to him rather than an actual appreciation of their ethnicity—so that use of the word olingo by "Indianer" may not have any linguistic significance. The "Quichean" etymology of olingo in the Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition, is unlikely, if not completely fanciful. A more probable indigenous source if the word could be localized in northwestern Honduras would be Tol (Jicaque) or Lenca.

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about olingo

Time Traveler for olingo

Time Traveler

The first known use of olingo was in 1920

See more words from the same year

Statistics for olingo

Last Updated

20 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Olingo.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/olingo. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.

Comments on olingo

What made you want to look up olingo? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Slippery Words Quiz—Changing with the Times

  • ducreux self portrait yawning
  • What is an earlier meaning of nice?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!