What does the name of the narwhal, one of the oddest animals on Earth, literally mean?

This blog always relishes a chance to write about the intersection of notable creatures and notable words. For example, when an event created an excuse to write about the zany zedonk (what the heck is that? Find out here.) celebration ensued. Now, one of the few creatures that can top the zedonk for linguistic and zoological oddness has surfaced in the media. That creature of legend is the narwhal.

If you’ve been on Google lately, you may have played with the interactive version of their logo that honors the 183rd birthday of science fiction pioneer Jules Verne, author of, among other classics, Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon. Part of the logo depicts what looks like a whale with a unicorn horn. That’s not fiction — that’s a narwhal.

This relative of the whale possesses the unique characteristic of a tusk that grows out of its head. The tusk is actually a giant tooth, massive in males and much smaller in females. Its purpose remains somewhat mysterious, but the generally-accepted explanation is that of sexual display, like the feathers of a peacock.

The origin of the name “narwhal” suggests the terror that these rare and unusual creatures must have inspired in ancient sailors. Nar is an Old Norse word for “corpse,” apparently tied to the weird whiteness of the Narwhal’s body. The scientific name bestows a bit more decency: Monodon monoceros, Greek for “one-toothed unicorn.”

Another real-life “unicorn” exists in Asia. Learn the name of this amazing, rare creature, here.

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Sonesta to freeze DB plan, match 401(k) contributions.(Sonesta International Hotels Corp.’s defined benefit plan)

Pensions & Investments November 27, 2006 BOSTON – Sonesta International Hotels Corp., Boston, will freeze its defined benefit plan to all of its U.S. employees effective Dec. 31, and begin matching contributions up to 4% of employees’ earnings to its 401(k) plan, according to an SEC filing. The company currently doesn’t make any 401(k) contributions. Defined benefit participants will continue to be eligible to receive a benefit provided they meet the five-year vesting requirement, but the amount of all benefits will be frozen at the Dec. 31, 2006, level.

Sonesta officials expect the decision will cap the retirement plan cost at the level of its outlays for the current year.

Sonesta’s defined benefit plan had $19.7 million in assets and its 401(k) plan, $7.7 million, both as of Dec. 31, 2005, according to the Money Market Directory.

Guild seeks arbitrator to break pension deadlock ST. PAUL, Minn. – The St. Paul Pioneer Press Guild Pension Plan committee employer members are seeking a court order to appoint an arbitrator to break a deadlock with union committee members over a proposal to freeze the pension plan to current employees, according to a guild news release.

Parent company MediaNews Group, Denver, had total plan pension assets of $85.9 million, according to its most recent 10-K filing. No breakout was available for the St. Paul plan, which covers members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union.

Employer members proposed the freeze last December and have been unable to reach an agreement with union members, the release said. The plan has a $22 million shortfall, according to a published report. Spokeswoman Pat Effenberger declined to comment further.

Union executive officer Darren Carroll did not return calls for comment. MediaNews Group President Jody Lodovic was not available for comment at press time.

Philadelphia Public drops Ark from growth portfolio PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Public Employees’ Retirement System terminated Ark Asset Management from a $120 million active domestic large-cap growth equities because of performance, said Christopher McDonough, CIO of the $4.5 billion plan. Jay Mermelstein, Ark’s COO, was not immediately available for comment. Fund officials plan to select a replacement in February.

Ford contributes $900 million, to add $500 million more DEARBORN, Mich. – Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich., contributed $900 million to its global defined benefit pension plans during the first nine months of the year, according to an SEC filing. Ford plans to contribute an additional $500 million in the fourth quarter. The company had an estimated $41 billion in defined benefit assets at the end of 2005, according to Pensions & Investments data. this web site defined benefit plan

British Airways agrees to contribute [pounds sterling]800 million LONDON – British Airways PLC, London, plans to make a one-time [pounds sterling]800 million ($1.52 billion) contribution to its [pounds sterling]6 billion New Airways Pension Schemes by April, following an agreement reached Nov. 15 with plan trustees, confirmed John Birch, secretary to the pension plan. The plan has a [pounds sterling]2.1 billion deficit. British Airways contributed [pounds sterling]235 million to the plan in 2005, which has been closed to new members since 2003. this web site defined benefit plan

Kentucky funds asked to divest Sudan-related holdings FRANKFORT – Kentucky state Treasurer Jonathan Miller last week urged the $14.1 billion Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and the $14 billion Kentucky Retirement System, to divest eight companies with investments in the Darfur region of Sudan. In Nov. 15 letters to KTRS Executive Director Gary Harbin and KRS Executive Director William Hanes, Mr. Miller, a member of the KTRS board of trustees, identified the companies as: Bharat Heavy Electricals, China Petroleum and Chemical Corp., Nam Fatt Oil & Natural Gas Co., PECD Berhad, PetroChina Co., Sudan Telecom Co., Tatneft OAO and Videocon Industries Ltd.

They “have demonstrated little or no interest in changing their activities or helping to improve the welfare of the Sudanese people. Because of their close ties to the brutal, unpopular Sudanese regime, they also pose serious long-term investment risks to their shareholders,” Mr. Miller said in his letter.

Mr. Miller he intends to introduce a resolution at the Kentucky teachers board meeting Dec. 18 to encourage the plan to “monitor its holdings and stay aware of the research being done by our colleagues to determine if there are other bad-actor companies to add to the list above that should require our divestment.” Neither Mr. Harbin nor Mr. Hanes was available for comment at press time.

LACERS returns 12% year-to-date Nov. 13 LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System earned a 12% return on investments for the year as of Nov. 13, said Dan Gallagher, CIO of the $10.2 billion system. Funded status improved to 83.1% as of June 30 from 79.3% the year before.

Hawaii returns lag benchmark for year ended Sept. 30 HONOLULU – The Hawaii Employees’ Retirement System earned a 10.7% return on its investments for the year ended Sept. 30, said Kimo Blaisdell, CIO at the $10.2 billion system. That compares with 10.8% for the system’s composite benchmark. For the three months ended Sept. 30, the system returned 3.63%, compared with 3.81% for the benchmark, he said. The lags were due to underperformance by domestic equity holdings, Mr. Blaisdell said. The fund has 43.1% of assets in domestic equities.

MetWest Asset to become completely employee-owned LOS ANGELES – Metropolitan West Asset Management will become totally employee-owned, acquiring the one-third minority stake held by partner Metropolitan West Financial, said Scott Dubchansky, CEO of MetWest Asset. Terms of the transaction, expected to close in the first quarter of 2007, were not disclosed. Bryan Whalen and Mitchell Flack, both portfolio managers, along with Joe Hattesohl, CFO, will become partners of MetWest Asset, bringing the total number of active partners to 10.

The new ownership structure will give the fixed-income firm greater flexibility to increase ownership participation and create new partnerships, including subadvisory relationships, Mr. Dubchansky said. For now, there are no plans to hire staff, nor are there any partnerships in the works, he added.

MWAM had $18.2 billion in assets as of Oct. 3, which included $3 billion in net new accounts won since the start of the year in the firm’s structured products and liability-driven investment strategy.


  1. wordjunkie -  February 12, 2011 - 11:20 am

    Very fun. Thanks, Hot Word. How about the origin of the chinchilla? How did this cross breed come to be?

    • Charlotte -  June 10, 2015 - 2:07 pm

      Narwhals are my favorite animal.

  2. JohnnyP-IIII -  February 12, 2011 - 6:24 am

    Unicorn is not unihorn because both “uni” and “corn” drive from latin. Uni means one and Corn is from Cornu which means horn. Cornucopia means horn of plenty. Two years of high school latin and all I remember is cornu and agricola. The nickname for the latin teacher was Father cornu because of the way he pronounced it.

    Oh yeah, I like narwhals too and now I know why.

  3. JohnnyP-IIII -  February 12, 2011 - 6:17 am

    Unicorn is not unihorn because both “uni” and “corn” drive from latin. Uni means one and Corn is from Cornu which means horn. Cornucopia means horn of plenty. Two years of high school latin and this all I remember is cornu and agricola. The nickname for the latin teacher was Father cornu because of the way he pronounced it.

    Oh yeah, I like narwhals too and now I know why.

  4. Alchemiste -  February 10, 2011 - 3:14 pm

    That’s a TOOTH growing out of its head!! I’d say they need some braces to get those teeth back in line! ;)

  5. NARWHAL | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 10, 2011 - 10:27 am

    [...] Monodon monoceros — It’s all Greek to us. — Understanding ‘narwhal‘, sounds like a book you might read on a bus — while eating kabobs. — Anyway, “It’s a Whale of a Tale” and did Jules Verne really write songs with a musical vision so futuristic. — Narwhal of the Arctic an oddity yet artistic. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  6. adam -  February 10, 2011 - 2:47 am

    Zookeepers never pick this species of whale to jump out of the water and retrieve something from the zookeeper’s mouth while he leans over the pool. I wonder why :)

  7. chewing_gum -  February 9, 2011 - 10:52 pm

    well “I did juggs”. from amazing vids. maybe it’s not like a lot lot of vids but they’re usually featured. so that’s still a lot. anyway, love this creatures… hope that you’ll give more info about rare creatures “so that other people would find out about them”.

  8. Narwallvr -  February 9, 2011 - 7:59 pm

    Yes! Mark V does know whats up about Narwals!!!

  9. John -  February 9, 2011 - 6:57 pm

    Go to youtube, type in “Narwhals” and watch the first video that pops up. It will teach you everything you need to know.
    Mark V knows what I’m talking about.

  10. lolipop -  February 9, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    this is nt real

  11. ChinChilla -  February 9, 2011 - 4:17 pm

    I fricken love Narwhals!! they are so fascinating and awesome, but not many people know about them and one of my friends doesn’t even believe in them, says they’re not real; LOOK if you don’t give into the greatness that is the one-horned whale then your missing out on life and what its about. GIVE INTO THE HORN!!!!!!

  12. a vehicle -  February 9, 2011 - 4:09 pm

    some show taught me about the norwhal. HAS ANYONE SEEN THE VIDEO ABOUT NARWHALS!!??! ITS HILARIOUS!!!

  13. Ydou Needtono -  February 9, 2011 - 4:09 pm

    Ya I LOVE Narwals!! They are my FAVORITE creature ever!^^ I also love the song!!^^ :D

    PS. for those that do not know—its pronounced NAHR-wall.

  14. I Luv J-Rockers -  February 9, 2011 - 3:47 pm

    Wow! I didn’t know they existed! XD

  15. Kald -  February 9, 2011 - 3:16 pm

    The Icelandic name for this whale is “Náhvalur” or corpse-whale. The spotty colors of the whales skin are similar to the colors of a corpse that has been in the ocean for some time.

    And a question for Nick: When the forefathers of those who speak Hebrew were debating the finer points of walking on water, some thousand years ago, what language were the Norse forefathers speaking?

    And by the way, “narr” also means both a “fool” and “jester” in Norwegian… I would guess it came from the Latin word “narrare” (a story or a tale). Jester = storyteller. And I would not be surprised if that is the origin of your Hebrew word as well.

  16. 1rockstar -  February 9, 2011 - 2:34 pm

    Wow! There’s a narwal in Buddy the Elf movie. Remember? When Buddy is leaving the North Pole the narwal surfaces and Buddy says, “Good bye, Mr. Narwal.”

  17. Booyoh -  February 9, 2011 - 2:19 pm

    This article brings up another question… Why is it Unicorn? Shouldn’t it be “Unihorn”?

  18. haha4555 -  February 9, 2011 - 1:51 pm

    ok this is 4 a bunch of peps that want to help the animal but there actions are not needed cuz the animal is doing fine. there is not 1 person hunting the animal

  19. Katherine104 -  February 9, 2011 - 1:17 pm

    Narwhals are my heroes.

  20. fun -  February 9, 2011 - 12:39 pm


  21. Jenny -  February 9, 2011 - 12:38 pm

    That’s pretty cool. :P

  22. MOOT -  February 9, 2011 - 12:37 pm

    A Nar must be a dangerous fool corpse, eh?

  23. Dennis -  February 9, 2011 - 12:28 pm

    In Neanderthal…pronounced knee-an-der-THall…Nar means nar, or oog, or even can replace the simple grunt.

  24. TaboondoX -  February 9, 2011 - 12:23 pm

    I was recently skimming through the Hot Word Blog articles of yesteryear, and I just so happened to stumble upon a mid-August article about cats that piqued my interest. So I read the article, and in the conclusive paragraph I noticed that the writer(s) of this blog made an offer to produce a future article about whichever animal got the most votes in the comments section. After that, I scrolled down through the comments section, eventually noticing the name “narwhal” appear more and more on people’s votes. I then thought back to how an article on narwhals (this one) had just been made not too long before. So, coincidence or not? I have no real idea. However, the correlation between both articles is at least a happenstance.

  25. Ooga Booga -  February 9, 2011 - 12:10 pm

    Next time I get angry with one of my co-workers I think I will tell them to go kiss my narwhal………..hehehehehehehehe………

  26. Unknown -  February 9, 2011 - 12:04 pm

    who cares what NAR means stupid

  27. ariel alabastro -  February 9, 2011 - 12:03 pm

    This article it’s so cool I mean awsome too!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. lexi -  February 9, 2011 - 11:52 am

    In Turkish, Nar means pomegranate. I like that definition best!

  29. Svenjamin -  February 9, 2011 - 11:45 am

    Let’s not forget the B-52′s reference to the narwhal in the cult classic tune: Rock Lobster.

  30. Doug Morgan -  February 9, 2011 - 11:43 am

    Back in my Navy days, my first duty station after my schooling was the USS Narwhal, SSN671. It was a unique boat, with a radical power plant design that made it much quieter than its 637-class predecessors. That uniqueness gave the crew an unusual sense of pride.

    When narwhal tusks washed ashore, they were determined to be unicorn horns by stuffing spiders into the channel in the middle of the tusk, and sealing it with wax. After a few days, the wax was removed. If the spiders were dead, then it was proof that it was unicorn horn. Of course, that method ensured a winner every time. Unicorn horns were prized for their healing powers when they were ground into a powder and ingested as a medicine. It makes you wonder how the human race survived.

  31. Guy1254sdf -  February 9, 2011 - 10:41 am

    In Arabic Nar means danger.

  32. doxma -  February 9, 2011 - 10:10 am

    First heard it mentioned in the B52 song “rock lobster”. Now I know what the heck it is.

  33. Tori -  February 9, 2011 - 10:05 am

    Lol I saw it too! I was excited to see the narwhal! I love them.

  34. Liza -  February 9, 2011 - 9:48 am

    “The tusk is actually a giant tooth, massive in males and much smaller in females.”

    It is actually extremely rare for a female narwhal to have a tusk, or tooth. The majority of females do not have this characteristic. When they do, though, they are smaller when compared to the male version.

  35. Maximonk -  February 9, 2011 - 8:53 am

    You missed a chance – “Monodon monoceros, Greek for “one-toothed unicorn.””. Why not “Monodon monoceros, Greek for “one-toothed one-horn.”!?

  36. A. Blinken -  February 9, 2011 - 8:35 am

    Could you possibly have posted a four paragraph discussion of the narwhal without providing pronunciation guidance? Is it pronounced NAHR-wall, NAHR-wale or what? Oh sure, I could go look it up but with four paragraphs…

  37. Abigail -  February 9, 2011 - 8:34 am

    wow i didnt even know they existed this is amazing im impress well i atleast learned something new today lolz :)

  38. Stella May -  February 9, 2011 - 8:24 am

    Wow i didnt think those were ACTUALLY in existence i about fainted when my hated bff told me and showed me this article

  39. sophia -  February 9, 2011 - 8:18 am

    finally they give the narwhals some respect!! This has been my favorite animal for a year now!!!!

  40. Imogene -  February 9, 2011 - 8:17 am

    i super dig your usage of the word “intersection” in the first line. :) it’s gonna make me happy all day long.

  41. mark V -  February 9, 2011 - 7:18 am

    Narwhals, Narwhals swimming in the ocean, making a commotion ’cause they are so awesome.
    Narwhals, Narwhals pretty strong and pretty white, they beat a polar bear in a fight
    Like an underwater unicorn they’ve got a kickass facial horn.
    They are the jedi of the sea and stop Cthulu eating yee!

  42. nicole -  February 9, 2011 - 7:01 am


  43. juggs -  February 9, 2011 - 6:00 am

    I doubt that anyone has seen “a lot of vids and documentaries about narwhals”.

  44. Wait for it.............MOO goes the chicken! -  February 9, 2011 - 5:40 am

    Why didnt they use a real picture of it instead of someones art work of it?

  45. inviting a handlename -  February 9, 2011 - 4:50 am

    I go watch Youtube now.

    Rare animals need to be conserved.

  46. jana -  February 9, 2011 - 3:43 am

    wow so interesting

  47. Nick -  February 9, 2011 - 12:59 am

    In Hebrew, a language much older than Norse, a “nar” is a fool.

  48. chewing_gum -  February 9, 2011 - 12:01 am

    these are very beautiful creatures… i’ve watched a lot of vids and documentaries about narwhals. interesting!

  49. Carl -  February 8, 2011 - 11:12 pm

    To me, Narwhals signify the Muslim world being a real threat to Americans and the west. I’m waiting for Glenn Beck to tell me how it is so…

  50. Nikki -  February 8, 2011 - 10:54 pm

    I did play with Google’s logo.. LOL.. and I did notice the narwhal.. i did not know it was called narwhal, though.. Nice info!!

  51. scott -  February 8, 2011 - 9:31 pm

    Well….I never knew that! I am that much smarter! (^^)


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