Tag Archives: Classification

Myth became Legend, Legend became Truth.

Why do the Afrikaans speaking people refer to a grey rhinoceros as white? The popular etymological story goes like this:

The Dutch at the Cape of Good Hope called the white rhinoceros the “wide” (Dutch: wijd, Afrikaans: wyd) rhinoceros to refer to its wide mouth adapted for grazing – a grass eater. Its mouth is an anatomical feature that distinguishes it from the black rhinoceros, which is a browser – a leaf eater.

The English misheard/mistranslated ‘wijd’ and started calling the rhino “white”.

Some years later, the Dutch/Afrikaners  on hearing that the English refer to this rhino as white, decided to use the Afrikaans translation for white rather than stick with the anatomically correct name they purportedly gave it earlier.

You won’t be alone in your incredulity; Kees Rookmaaker, Chief Editor of the Rhino Resource Center wrote in a 2003 publication “the popular explanation that ‘white’ is derived from the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ is examined and found to be unsubstantiated and historically incorrect.”

AAB30
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) at Pilanesberg.

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