Why are snow leopards called ‘ounce’?

People want to know why snow leopards are called ‘ounce’. It is peculiar. An alternative to ‘ounce’ in this context is ‘once’. They are both used interchangeably. We don’t know for sure the origin of this name. Here is my best shot.

Snow leopard Gobi Gurvan Saikhan NP Mongolia
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Snow leopard Gobi Gurvan Saikhan NP Mongolia

It is thought to have originated in the Greek language. The Greeks used ‘lynx’ for all medium-sized cat species. Scientifically speaking this is not correct nowadays.

According to Ingo Rieger of Zurich Zoo in his work: “Some aspects of the history of ounce knowledge” published in International pedigree book of snow leopards 2: 1-36 1980…..

“In Roman culture, the Greek term ‘lynx’ was Latinized to ‘lonza’, which was later transformed to the French ‘once’. Over the centuries the ‘l’ of ‘lonce’ was mistaken for an article (l’once) and thus the noun was reduced to ‘once’. From there the name was Latinized to ‘uncia’ and the snow leopard became Felis uncia.”

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This explains the origin of the word ‘once’ but not ‘ounce’. However, I’d suggest that ‘ounce’ came about as an aberration or derivation from ‘once’ in usage over a long time which looks like ‘ounce’ missing the ‘u’. I have a feeling this was a question of pronunciation; people saying ‘once’ incorrectly by saying ‘ounce’.

I’d welcome corrections of you have time and superior knowledge.

Below are some pages on the snow leopard.

Snow leopard moving efficiently and silently through deep snow

Snow leopard walked non-stop for 10 kilometers through 20-inch-deep snow

This is a little story I've picked up in my travels which highlights the incredible stamina and persistence of the ...
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Snow leopard eats a large quantity of vegetation

Snow leopards eat a large quantity of vegetation

The experts are unsure why but the snow leopard living on the high plains of the Hindu Kush and the ...
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Infographic on snow leopard physical features

Infographic on snow leopard physical features

Well, the snow leopard is a known beauty; enigmatic with haunting, hooded, green eyes fixed on a distant sighting of ...
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Snow leopard paw print

How big are snow leopard paws?

An innocuous question but an important one as the snow leopard needs large 'snowshoe' style paws to successfully navigate over, ...
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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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4 Responses

  1. Kevin V. Bidwell says:

    As for “once” versus “ounce”, I can only assume that English spelling and pronunciation has been malleable over time and to this day.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Yes, well said. Agreed. It’s a minor variation and the kind of change that takes place with words of time.

  2. Kevin V. Bidwell says:

    Assuming your etymology is accurate (lynx -> lonce -> l’once -> once), and keeping in mind uncia [1/12 in Latin] -> once [as in the unit of weight], the two words are already homonyms in French, and “once” [French] becomes “ounce” in English. In short “ounce” [as in the cat] can be traced back to Greek “lynx” and ultimately (perhaps describing the cat’s glowing eyes and night vision) the Indo-European root “lewk-” [white/bright/light/to shine/to see] which also occurs in Latin “lux” and “light” in English.

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