What is the origin of the word 'penguin'?

The origin of penguin is still debated. The name originally applied to the great auk (now extinct) of the seas around Newfoundland in Canada, and may have come from the Welsh pen gwyn, meaning 'white head' (or a similar phrase in the Breton or Cornish languages). In the logbook of the Golden Hind, which sailed around the world in 1577–80, there is a reference to a 'foule, which the Welsh men name Pengwin' that was seen in the Magellan Straight at the tip of South America. The sailors on the expedition may have mistaken penguins for great auks, or simply applied a term they knew to an unfamiliar bird: the great auk resembled a penguin in that it was a large flightless bird with black and white plumage that was adapted to life in freezing waters.


See other questions about the origins of words and phrases.
Take a look at: What is the origin of the phrase 'the bee's knees'?
Or: What is the origin of the term 'brass monkey'?

See more from Word origins