walrus

[ wawl-ruhs, wol- ]
/ ˈwɔl rəs, ˈwɒl- /

noun, plural wal·rus·es, (especially collectively) wal·rus.

a large marine mammal, Odobenus nosmarus, of arctic seas, related to the seals, and having flippers, a pair of large tusks, and a tough, wrinkled skin.

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Origin of walrus

1645–55; <Dutch: literally, whale horse; cognate with German Walross,Danish hvalros; compare Old English horshwæl horse-whale
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

BEHIND THE WORD

Where does the word walrus come from?

The walrus is, no doubt, a funny-looking animal. It’s got a droopy, hangdog kind of face, grumpy-old-man whiskers, and two ludicrous-looking tusks. (No offense to any walruses who may be reading this.)

So, it seems fitting that walrus also has a funny origin story: it may literally mean “whale-horse.” Well, that’s a theory.

The origins of the word walrus are disputed. In fact, the writer of the famous Lord of the Rings books, J. R. R. Tolkien, came up with no fewer than six different possible origins of the word.

Anyway, even if it’s not entirely true, the story goes that walrus comes from Dutch. Walvis means “whale” and ros means “horse.” Combine it all together and a walrus is a “whale-horse.” Which, if you look at this wonderful animal, seems like a fitting name for it.

The roots of these other words may get a rise—of laughter or surprise—out of you too. Run on over to our roundup of them at “Weird Word Origins That Will Make Your Family Laugh.”

Did you know … ?

  • The walrus’s tusks aren’t just for show: they use them to fend off predators, and the top males are the ones with the longest tusks.
    • You can even tell how old a walrus is based on its tusks.
  • Walrus tusks also help tell them apart from the similar animals of seals and sea lions, if these groups of animals confuse you.
  • The word walrus only has one L and one S, so watch out for misspelling it as “wallrus” or “walruss.”
    The walrus’s whiskers are so memorable that a person with a droopy moustache is said to have a walrus moustache.

The wal– in walrus shares a background with the whal– in narwhal, an animal that the walrus often shares a habitat with. The wal- in walrus is also related to the word whale, another marine mammal.     

Example sentences from the Web for walrus

British Dictionary definitions for walrus

walrus
/ (ˈwɔːlrəs, ˈwɒl-) /

noun plural -ruses or -rus

a pinniped mammal, Odobenus rosmarus, of northern seas, having a tough thick skin, upper canine teeth enlarged as tusks, and coarse whiskers and feeding mainly on shellfish: family Odobenidae

Word Origin for walrus

C17: probably from Dutch, from Scandinavian; compare Old Norse hrosshvalr (literally: horse whale) and Old English horschwæl; see horse, whale
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012