porpoise

1 of 2

noun

por·​poise ˈpȯr-pəs How to pronounce porpoise (audio)
1
: any of a family (Phocoenidae) of small gregarious toothed whales
especially : a blunt-snouted usually dark gray whale (Phocoena phocoena) of the North Atlantic and North Pacific that typically ranges from 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) in length
2
: dolphin sense 1a(1)
not used technically

Note: While not closely related, porpoises and dolphins share a physical resemblance that often leads to misidentification. Porpoises typically have flat, spade-shaped teeth, triangular dorsal fins, and shortened beaks with relatively small mouths while dolphins have cone-shaped teeth, curved dorsal fins, and elongated beaks with larger mouths.

porpoise

2 of 2

verb

porpoised; porpoising; porpoises

intransitive verb

1
: to leap or plunge like a porpoise
penguins … porpoise out of the waterDavid Lewis
2
: to rise and fall repeatedly

Examples of porpoise in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
Orca–or killer whales–are the ultimate apex predators, who have been observed attacking great white sharks, porpoises, and even blue whales. Laura Baisas, Popular Science, 20 Mar. 2024 That mix causes nutrient-rich water to rise upward and support a whole web of life, including bait fish, sea birds and over 25 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Michael Charboneau, Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 2024 Earth’s magnetic field wavered, and living things were bombarded by cosmic rays, confounding the navigational senses of turtles and porpoises, which beached themselves en masse. Zach St. George, New York Times, 5 Mar. 2024 Roughly 125 marine mammals wash up on the shores of North Carolina beaches annually, according to NCSU, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and manatees. Julia Moore, Peoplemag, 9 Nov. 2023 Toothed whales include, orcas, sperm whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Laura Baisas, Popular Science, 21 Feb. 2024 Whales are cetaceans, as are porpoises and dolphins. Allison Futterman, Discover Magazine, 17 Jan. 2024 Advocacy groups estimate there is a 90 percent chance these porpoises will be extinct before the end of the century. Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi, Discover Magazine, 23 Sep. 2023 Visitors can explore its incredible artifacts and furnishings while appreciating the surrounding wildlife, including dolphins, otters, and porpoises. Patricia Doherty, Travel + Leisure, 5 Dec. 2023
Verb
As if on cue, dolphins porpoised in the water directly ahead. Emma Allen, The New Yorker, 14 Aug. 2023 But for example, the porpoising last year caught everybody out. Elana Scherr, Car and Driver, 29 Apr. 2023 The length of the habitat allows the penguins to swim for long distances in a group, and bob in an out of the water (a phenomenon called porpoising). Ariana Garcia, Chron, 7 Apr. 2023 Swimmers porpoise through the shimmering water, while farther offshore surfers straddle their boards in anticipation of the next big wave. Larry Pynn, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Dec. 2022 Calvin stepped up to the glass, watching Fiona porpoise around Hippo Cove with her mother, Bibi. Mallorie Sullivan, Cincinnati.com, 20 Feb. 2018

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

Word History

Etymology

Noun

Middle English porpoys, from Anglo-French porpeis, from Medieval Latin porcopiscis, from Latin porcus pig + piscis fish — more at farrow, fish

First Known Use

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1909, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of porpoise was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near porpoise

Cite this Entry

“Porpoise.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/porpoise. Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

porpoise

noun
por·​poise
ˈpȯr-pəs
1
: any of several small whales with teeth and blunt rounded snouts that live and travel in groups
2
Etymology

Noun

Middle English porpoys "porpoise," from early French porpeis (same meaning), from Latin porcopiscis, literally, "pig fish," from porcus "pig" and piscis "fish"; originally in Latin called porcus marinus, literally, "pig of the sea" — related to porcupine, pork

Word Origin
The porpoise is a swift and graceful swimmer. But both its name and pork, the English word for the meat of hogs, can be traced to Latin porcus, meaning "pig." The porpoise's rounded face must have reminded ancient Romans of a pig's snout. They named the animal porcus marinus, meaning "pig of the sea." In the Middle Ages this became porcopiscus, from Latin porcus "pig" and piscis "fish." In early French, the word was borrowed as porpeis. It is from the French that we derived our English word porpoise.

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