Some deep thinking today. While in Uganda I learned a lot of words, but which language they were in, I’m not entirely sure. We dealt primarily with those speaking Luganda and a dialect of Luganda called Lusoga (sp?). But there are occasional Swahili words mixed in too, I think, and Swahili is the language of a large portion of the African population across national borders. Anyway, I learned that the word jumbo is really Swahili for hello.

Of course, we know jumbo as meaning huge or extra-large. I believe this is derived from the common practice of naming circus elephants Jumbo, so, in effect, when we say in English that something is jumbo-sized (like on all the TV commercials), we mean elephant-sized, figuratively speaking.

So that raises the question for me of how elephants came to be called Jumbo. It really doesn’t make any sense, but the whole thing is an exercise in how meanings evolve as words travel through different languages. I guess, now that we are armed with this firsthand knowledge, right from the elephant’s mouth, so to speak, we can return to accurate usage of the term jumbo. Next time you visit the circus or the zoo, try calling out, “Jumbo, Jumbo,” to the elephants. Loosely translated, you will be saying either, “Hello, Jumbo,” or, “Hello, Hello.” And if you were to get really bold with your newfound depth of understanding, you could even try, “Jumbo, Jumbo, jumbo.” This, of course, would mean, “Hello, Jumbo, big fella.”

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