\ ˌyü-ˈnȯ How to pronounce unau (audio) , ˈyü-ˌnȯ, ü-ˈnau̇ \
plural unaus

Definition of unau

First Known Use of unau

1774, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for unau

borrowed from French, borrowed from a Tupi word recorded as unaü in the 17th century

Note: The use of the word unau as a generic name for the two-toed sloth (and ai as a name for the three-toed sloth) is owed to Georges-Louis Leclerc de buffon, who so denominated them in Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, tome treizième (Paris, 1765), p. 34 ff. The word ai is well-documented (see note at ai), but unau is apparently reported only in a description of the sloth by the French Capuchin priest Claude d'Abbeville, who resided on the island of Maranhão (French Maragnan, now called in Portuguese ilha de São Luís or Upaon-Açu) in 1612-15: "Il y en a de deux sortes, aucuns sonts grands enuiron comme les Lieures qu'ils appellent Vnaü, & les autres sont deux fois presque plus grands qu'ils appellent Vnaü Oaüssou & d'autant plus monstrueux" (Histoire de la mission des pères capucins en l'Isle de Maragnan et terres circonvoisines, Paris, 1614, p. 252). ("There are two kinds of them [sloths], some are about as large as hares, which they call unaü, and others are almost two times as large, which they call unaü oaüssou, and all the more monstrous.") Though the suffixed word oaüssou [wasu] means "large" in Tupi, and a number of other names cited by d'Abbeville are familiar from other records, unaü does not appear to be attested elsewhere.

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about unau

Statistics for unau

Cite this Entry

“Unau.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unau. Accessed 1 Dec. 2020.

Comments on unau

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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