The word for shark in Hungarian is cápa. Quick search for its origin didn't bring me anything. Probably there are some Hungarian sources, but I don't know the language, unluckily.

As Hungary is a continental nation (even taking into account the Great Migration), they probably didn't had much experience with sharks in the past. So, there should be an origin for that word – either from other language or from some related subject. What is the origin?


In the Hungarian etymological dictionary I have found, Etimológiai szótár. Magyar szavak és toldalékok eredete, Zaicz Gábor, Budapest, 2006, p. 104, it is said that cápa, first attested at the end of the 18th century, stems from an older, now obsolete, 16th century word capa meaning ‘shagreen’, a kind of leather made from the skin of a shark:

cápa [1794] Valószínűleg szóhasadással keletkezett az elavult capa ’sagrenbőr’ [1529] szóból, a sagrenbőrt ugyanis cápabőrből készítik. Az is lehetséges, hogy a 18. század végén tudatos állattani műszói alkotásként keletkezett. Eredeti, ’ragadozó tengeri hal’ jelentése alapján hasonlóságon alapuló névátvitellel keletkezett az ’öreg matróz’, illetve a ’kíméletlen kizsákmányoló’ jelentése.

Interesting to note, that in the neighboring Czech and Slovak languages, also very continental, the word for ‘shark’ is žralok “eater, devourer”, derived from the verb žrát/žrát’ “to eat (of animals)”, analogous to the German fressen as opposed to essen “to eat (of people)”.

  • 1
    Well, words for shark are often strange in many languages. For example, Russian word акула probably comes from some word for shark liver oil. Sep 21 '21 at 15:41
  • @SergeyKirienko - I wouldn't say they're strange, they're mostly neutral ‘big fish’ (Latin ‘squalus’, cognate of English ‘whale’) or related to the predator nature of sharks: Arabic قِرْش‎ (qirš) “chewer, grinder”, Turkish ‘köpek balığı’ “dog fish”. Russian ‘акула’ is a borrowing from Old Norse ‘hákarl’, whichever way it took.
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 21 '21 at 16:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.