pachy·​derm | \ ˈpa-ki-ˌdərm How to pronounce pachyderm (audio) \

Definition of pachyderm

: any of various nonruminant mammals (such as an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a hippopotamus) of a former group (Pachydermata) that have hooves or nails resembling hooves and usually thick skin especially : elephant

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Pachydermos in Greek means literally "having thick skin" (figuratively, it means "dull" or "stupid"). It's from pachys, meaning "thick," and derma, meaning "skin." In the late 1700s, the French naturalist Georges Cuvier adapted the Greek term as pachyderme for any one of a whole assemblage of hoofed animals having thickish skin: elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, tapirs, horses, pigs, and more. English speakers learned the word from French in the early 1800s. The adjective pachydermatous means "of or relating to the pachyderms" or "thickened" (referring to skin). Not too surprisingly, it also means "callous" or "insensitive" (somewhat unfairly especially to elephants, which are actually known to be rather sensitive).

Examples of pachyderm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web One particularly talented pachyderm, a female called Pawan, could squeak and snort at the same time. Karen Hopkin, Scientific American, 20 Oct. 2021 The elephant proclaims the joys of sustaining the burden of ancient wisdom, but contemporaries almost immediately cottoned to the way the cheerful pachyderm is showing its hindquarters to the Dominican convent that had commissioned it. Ingrid D. Rowland, The New York Review of Books, 27 Apr. 2021 Around 20 million years ago there lived a prehistoric pachyderm named Deinotherium with twin, curved tusks curving down from the jaw. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Dec. 2020 Dreiser, playing so well the part of the pachyderm, seemed completely undisturbed. John Dos Passos, National Review, 28 Sep. 2020 Well, naturally, the guy moves through the air and over the elephant—then over another elephant (because where there’s one pachyderm there’s probably another). Rhett Allain, Wired, 4 Apr. 2020 That’s probably a misleading way to characterize a herd of pachyderms making their dangerous annual migration across hundreds of miles of parched Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. Los Angeles Times, 1 Apr. 2020 The images please both nostalgic circus-goers and animal-rights supporters who pushed to eliminate live pachyderms from shows over animal treatment issues. National Geographic, 11 Dec. 2019 With the power to put down a pachyderm, this rifle roars at the muzzle and bites at the butt-stock. Richard Mann, Field & Stream, 17 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pachyderm.' 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 pachyderm

1828, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pachyderm

French pachyderme, from Greek pachydermos thick-skinned, from pachys thick + derma skin; akin to Sanskrit bahu dense, much — more at derm-

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The first known use of pachyderm was in 1828

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Last Updated

14 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pachyderm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2022.

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English Language Learners Definition of pachyderm

: a type of animal that has hooves and thick skin especially : elephant


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