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
Snow leopard Gobi Gurvan Saikhan NP Mongolia
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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.”

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.

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4 thoughts on “Why are snow leopards called ‘ounce’?”

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

  2. 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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