Etymology Corner- Amazon

Proper nouns can be very fun to look into, so let’s give it the ole’ etymology corner treatment. It’s time to start pouring your money into the coffers of the rich, and what better way to do so than to shop at Amazon!

In Greek mythology, the Amazons are a tribe of female warriors. They only interacted with men if they were going a-murdering, or, once a year, visiting neighboring men to invest in some babies. There’s a lot of debate as to the origins of this myth, whether it’s a story of a real matriarchal society where women weren’t allowed to get married until they had killed a man in battle or simply a male army who wore their hair long and their faces shaven. The point, however, is words! There are a few theories, but most likely the word comes from the Iranian *ha-mazan, meaning “warriors”. Another theory is that they were lady fighters from a land called Azzi, with the *am part being a gender signifier. Of course, just as likely as any of these is that it was a borrowed word from some completely different language family that we have no record of.

What’s fun to look at here, however, is the return of folk etymology. It’s for Greeks too! The historian Marcus Justinus propagated the myth that Amazons cut a boob off for some reason, probably because hating on feminism is older than feminism itself. This is especially odd because all of the art we have of Amazons looks like they have the typical two intact ta-tas to their chests. It’s likely that the whole idea was invented to serve the folk etymology that Amazon came from a-, the same root we use in words like ahistorical or amoral meaning “without”, and mastos meaning a breast. We see that root in all sorts of medical terminology relating to the chest like mastectomy and gynecomastia. The mastoid part of the skull is named as such because pervy doctors thought it looked like a nipple. Paleontologists are also pretty horny, because one of them looked at some old teeth and thought they looked like nips as well, naming the mastodon. For more on the –don part, see the etymology corner on dandelion. I feel kind of bad for these mammoths, since they’re basically named tittyteeth.

Anyway, the Amazon River was named because the Spanish explorers were attacked by native warriors who were mostly women. It’s better than the previous mouthful, Rio Santa Maria del Mar Dulce. The Saint Mary Sweetwater River is kind of a ridiculous name, so I’m glad they changed it.

Jeff Bezos went through a few names for the company Amazon. At first he called it Cadabra, but friends were like “that sounds like a dead body dude” so he changed it to Relentless, but presumably those same friends were like “please make it less obvious that your goal is to kill all brick and mortar retailers and dance on their graves” so he finally settled on Amazon. It’s the biggest river in the world and Bezos wanted the biggest bookstore, plus his white guy brain decided the name was exotic. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the word begins with an A. Gotta get that search engine optimization.


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