Friday, September 5, 2008

What's in a Name?

Those logophiles and trivia buffs among us might be interested in the origin of the word jumbo, as in the term mortgage professionals use to describe large loans over $417,000.

 It comes from the name of a Nineteenth Century circus performer ­– Jumbo the Elephant.

London Zookeepers created the African pachyderm’s name by mixing two Swahili words,“jambo” (hello) and “jumbe” chief.


Standing over eleven feet tall, the gentle giant became popular for giving children rides on his back at the London Zoo.  His growing fame brought him to the attention of P.T. Barnum who acquired the animal, despite the protests of English children, and brought Jumbo to the Greatest Show on Earth Circus.

Jumbo found new fans on this side of the Atlantic.  And thanks to Barnum’s showmanship, the giant elephant became a beloved cultural icon as the embodiment of the optimism and larger than life spirit of the late Victorian age.  By the time of the animal’s death in 1885, Jumbo’s name had become synonymous with large and huge. 

And no, Jumbo was not a white elephant.

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