Lewis and Short have this:

căper, pri, m. [cf. κάπρος, wild boar], a he-goat, a goat.

How come the Greek word means boar, while the Latin means goat? I presume the words are related; how could people confuse two animals so very different? What's the story behind this? My question is a little vague, but I hope someone will understand and be able to clear my confusion.

  • 2
    They surely did mix up those animals quite commonly, *kaɸrāxs also seems to be a cognate, meaning "sheep" in Proto-Celtic.
    – IS4
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 1:53

1 Answer 1


It's normal, it happens but even if there's an anomaly, it's in Greek, not in Latin.

The story behind this is that actually quite often cognates (word of common origin) designate related yet different concepts in related languages, and zoology terminology is no exception.

The Latin word is reconstructed from from Proto-Indo-European, here's an excerpt from the article:

From Proto-Indo-European *kápros (“buck, he-goat”); see also Old Norse hafr (“he-goat”), Old English hæfr, Welsh gafr, Old Irish gabor.

Which is actually not precise. What is more correct to say that we can assume with high probability, we can claim that most likely this word originally stood for goats.

Most likely (the ancestry we have in Indo-European languages) it indeed meant a goat or something close to goat. But first, there's still a probability it's not the case. Second, even if it is a case, that proofs nothing.

What's common between a boar and a goat? Those are big hoofed animals.

Say, in German we have Tier, an animal, which is cognate to English deer. One can ask why on Earth this happened, but the answer is pretty obvious - it's just that languages evolved in different directions, so that the set of possible meanings for specific root X in language A and set of possible meanings for the same root in language B do not intersect anymore.

As a sidenote, Latin word for boar was aper.

  • 1
    This sounds good: despite the likeness, Latin didn't take it from Greek, but both took it from Proto-Indo-European, which was long enough ago that such a change in meaning can occur.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 3:39
  • @Cerberus. Not "took", but "inherited" from PIE. (If indeed these words are from IE, rather than from a European substrate, as has also been suggested).
    – fdb
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 15:28
  • @fdb: Yes, I know. One can take things from one's parents and other ancestors.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 21:12
  • Elephant = Gothic ulbandus, Polish wielbłąd (camel). Turkish arslan (lion) = Polish słoń (elephant). So this is indeed a widespread pattern. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:09

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