Das Meerschweinchen -> The Guinea pig

If we can think of the word as Meer-Schweinchen, Meer means sea and Schweinchen means piglet. Is there any historical reason for Guinea Pig's to be called Ocean piglets?

  • 2
    Note that the figurative Guinea pig is to be translated as Versuchskaninchen instead. Jan 29, 2022 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


The reason is that the guinea pig has been imported from overseas. It is called pig, "because it makes the sound of a pig". See the "Etymologie" section at: https://www.dwds.de/wb/Meerschweinchen

Another instance of a German word, where Meer- is indicating exotic provenance is Meerkatze ("guenon"), as they stem from Africa. For Meerrettich ("horse raddish"), there is a theory, that the naming follows the same pattern (see Wikipedia for more details).

  • 1
    Another word where Meer can be interpreted as "from overseas" or "exotic" is Meerrettich = "horse radish".
    – RDBury
    Jan 28, 2022 at 15:56
  • @RDBury Nice. I amended my answer accordingly.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:46
  • Another theory for "Meerkatze" is that is derived from the Sanskrit word "markata“ (which means monkey). See biologie-seite.de/Biologie/Meerkatzen. For "Meerschweinchen" also see meerschweinchen-wissen.de/allgemein/….
    – Paul Frost
    Jan 28, 2022 at 17:50
  • @PaulFrost Interesting. Unfortunately, the second theory has no source in the linked article. Do you have a linguistic source for the theory? The etymological dictionary at dwds (Wolfgang Pfeifer: Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen) only mentions the overseas theory.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jan 29, 2022 at 19:30
  • @jonathan.scholbach You are right, there is no source for the "markata" theory. But I also doubt that there is a reliable source for the overseas theory. In my opinion each explanation is somewhat speculative; it only appears to be more or less plausible.
    – Paul Frost
    Jan 31, 2022 at 23:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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