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

Did you know?

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).

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Her peeling prowess is yet another reminder of just how intelligent and resourceful pachyderms can be. Sarah Kuta, Smithsonian Magazine, 11 Apr. 2023 The weight of the elephant’s trunk pillar contributed 28 percent of the force the pachyderm needed to compress the wheat brain pile into a solid lump. Roni Dengler, Discover Magazine, 23 Oct. 2018 And one Asian elephant, named Pang Pha, in the Berlin Zoo learned how to peel a banana, according to a new paper published in the journal Current Biology—a highly unusual ability for a pachyderm, and one the other Asian elephants in the Berlin Zoo don't possess. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 12 Apr. 2023 Showing it in pachyderms would bolster that argument. Byvirginia Morell,, 3 Apr. 2023 Overproduced and undernourishing, the show is a mishmash of dispiriting conceits, revolving around an unhappy young man and an abused pachyderm. Washington Post, 11 Nov. 2021 The film’s story is a quest narrative about a young wizard, an outlaw with a mysterious power, a wacky pachyderm and a fantasy beast called a Lendarys, all on the trail of the wizard’s missing brother. Patrick Frater, Variety, 28 Mar. 2023 The discovery of a mysterious pachyderm was the first clue that the mammoths’ story was more complicated than originally thought, says East Tennessee State University paleontologist Chris Widga. Riley Black, Discover Magazine, 9 Mar. 2020 The pachyderm's just an appetizer, however, and the hungry creatures soon turn their attention to the tasty humans. Matt Cabral,, 2 Jan. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pachyderm.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1828, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pachyderm was in 1828


Dictionary Entries Near pachyderm

Cite this Entry

“Pachyderm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


pachy·​derm ˈpak-i-ˌdərm How to pronounce pachyderm (audio)
: any of various usually thick-skinned mammals (as an elephant or a rhinoceros) that have hooves or nails resembling hooves
especially : elephant
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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