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Abominable Snowmen, by Ivan T. Sanderson, [1961], at

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Appendix A

ABSMal Connotations

One of the greatest headaches to laborers in ABSMery has been, almost since its inception, its concomitant philology. The names for ABSMs that have been recorded are seemingly without end, while very few of the recorders of these names have been professionally trained or even amateur philologists. Most of them did not understand the language in which the name was given to them. Also, it was not until a quarter of a century ago that an international agreement was reached upon the transliteration of both the written and the spoken word in all languages. There is now a sort of universal alphabet—known as the P.C.G.N. * System—by which anybody can transliterate almost any noises made by men; even to the series of incomprehensible glottal clicks used by the Bushmen. However, hardly anybody uses it; and true linguists, philologists, and etymologists frown upon it a little.

The names used today for the sundry ABSMs in various parts of the world have been discussed in the body of my story, and in some cases their origins and meanings, or supposed origins, were also touched upon. The North American names are not as yet properly recorded—despite the herculean labors of Mr. J. W. Burns—so that any further attempted interpretation of their philology or etymology is at present worthless. Those from Central and South America are probably beyond the ken of any living scholars; and the same may be said about the few names such as Sehité, Muhalu, and Agogwe of Africa. I have been told, but cannot assert, that the first and last mean simply "little wild men." In the southeast Asian

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area, apart from the Kra-Dhan which seems to mean "great monkey," we have only Tok, Kung-Lu, and Sedapa. I have asked around about these but, although being the recipient of the usual plethora of fascinating material that one always obtains upon applying to any philologist for anything, I have not received clear answers as to what the words may mean. Tok does, however, seem to mean "big mouth" in one Kachin dialect.

This leaves us with Eurasia, and it is in this area—as it always has been with regard to the names applied to ABSMs—that all searchers have always been most interested, and seemingly most confused. The inhabitants of the great "Gutter" of the upper Brahmaputra are of Tibetan origin. Across the Himalayas themselves, moreover, there has been a blending of central Asiatic and Indic tongues. Thus, in respect to philology, the Himalayas and eastern Eurasia are connected, though they are in different "continents"; and they must be taken together.

Even I, without any training in or even understanding of linguistics, have for years been able to appreciate that there is a monumental muddle and misunderstanding of both the languages of, and of the names used in these areas for, almost everything alive. Some fifty different words (spellings only in some cases) for ABSMs have got into our literature through the writings of those who have visited the Himalayas. When we come to Tibet, Mongolia, and Siberia, the whole business gets completely out of hand. Yet, so important are the "proper" names of these creatures, and so valuable is the information that may be gained from an analysis of them, that every serious worker in the field has for years been appealing for some proper exposition of them. This has been attempted several times but those "scholars" who undertook the studies appear to have been thoroughly incompetent because anybody, even without any knowledge of the subject, can readily see that said "scholars," in many cases, obviously did not have any understanding of the languages concerned.

As a result, I prepared a list of all the names for ABSMs

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from these two regions [eastern Eurasia and the Himalayas] that I could find in the published literature of all languages, including the Russian, and passed this to the Rabbi Yonah N. ibn Aharon (see Chapter 17) who is one of the few persons conversant with the principal dialects underlying the languages that are spread all over this vast area—i.e. from the east Russian border to China, and from the south Siberian border to the Himalayas; and the great arc bowing northward from Ethiopia in the west, via Arabia, Persia, and southeastern Russia, to central Eurasia in the east. He has been kind enough to prepare the following statement on the subject which will, I trust, not only settle a number of rankling questions, but also the general confusion. At the same time it will help scholars in the field of ABSMery. He writes as follows:


By Yonah N. ibn Aharon

The study of words relating to the ABSM differs from other aspects of the problem in that the researcher has the advantage of a tangible starting point from whence to launch his investigation. When we remember, however, that the great majority of these words have been reported to us by persons to whom even the fundamentals of phonetic transcription constitute a mystery almost as profound as that of the ABSM itself, the difficulties of the situation are evident.

In the first place, most of those who have reported these words, do not realize the scholarly apparatus at the disposal of the specialist, and so neglect even to make sure from what language the word comes. This vicious combination of improper transcription and uncertain origin does much to impede a reliable definition of many of these words, because the homophonic properties of about 80 percent of them render them interchangeable among several languages and even language groups, with a corresponding divergence of meaning which is, of itself, a comedy of errors. One of the most ambiguous of them for example, can mean anything from silver spoon in one language to sour turnips, in another! [See Teh-lma below.]

The vast reaches of Central Asia, * of course, constitute the prime source

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of Snowman literature, and of words relating to ABSM studies. It is principally with this area, then, that we shall be concerned in what is to follow. Although geographically Central Asia is one of the most complex areas of the world, its philology is far simpler than most people realize. There are only three important languages with which we must trouble ourselves in the pursuit of satisfactory definitions of words originating in this area—Tibetan, Mongolian, and, to a minor extent, Nepali. There are two reasons for this relative paucity of language groups. The first is the extreme antiquity of the Tibetan and Mongolian socio-cultural groupings. The second is the fact that a single literary tradition has held sway over most of these peoples almost since the time they settled down in their present homes.

Once proper allowance has been made for local habits of pronunciation, neither the Tibetan nor the Mongolian dialects present any problems of philological verification, through the use of dictionaries, chrestomathies, and written source material. In both areas, no attempt has been made to preserve these peculiarities of local speech in the written language (although this is amended every few centuries in order to conform more closely to the changes in the speech habits of educated persons since the previous revision), but the dialects are in no case beyond the authority of the written speech. Indeed, differences of pronunciation are rarely the occasion of anything more problematical than good-natured remarks about the strange accent of the people in the next valley. Grammar has changed only slightly since the most remote times, and accents tend to change more slowly in rural areas than in the cities.

Each dialect is, of course, characterized by certain kinds of sound. Unfortunately, the ear of the average Westerner is rarely able to resolve these sounds, even to the extent of telling us whether they were or were not aspirated, or what quantity we should give to the vowels. Fortunately for our purpose, Tibetan has only one vowel quantity (its vowels correspond to those of the short vowel in Italian), but the untrained ear of most reporters has led them to make even more mistakes with regard to the vowel sounds of the ABSMal vocabulary, than with regard to the consonants. This makes it necessary for the researcher to consider each consonantal combination in the light of all possible joining vowel combinations. The fact that the consonants may have even more values than the vowel is of relative unimportance, because dictionaries exist for both Tibetan and Mongolian, with the words classified according to their final consonant, as well as their initial letter. The value of these special dictionaries has been largely ignored by Western scholars, but provides the determining criteria for some of the definitions provided in this discussion.

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The important principle to be observed in evaluating these words is that which is related to the direction of language movement. Specifically, even the sketchiest knowledge of Nepalese history will reveal the intellectual dependence of the Nepali people on Lamaism, a Tibetan religion of Buddhistic origin. This fact has, however, been completely ignored by a number of rather self-confident Indian and Western writers who have, in perfect good faith, been seeking the word-meanings of Nepali names for the ABSM either in Turner's excellent Nepali Dictionary, or else in the dictionaries of other Indic languages which they think to be related to Nepali.

The fact is that Nepali is a rather cosmopolitan speech, considering the isolation of the country. Nepali has absorbed hundreds of Mongol words (via Urdu) and almost as many English words as has Hindi. Nepali is an idiomatic, colloquial speech, well suited to the needs of the people. Its grammar is not too difficult, and it is written in the very same Deva-nagari script that serves the rest of the languages descended from Sanskrit. A great deal of the talk about the rare dialects of Nepal generated by men like Prince Peter of Greece, is simply not true. W. R. J. Morland-Hughes, in his convenient little Grammar of the Nepali Language notes that Nepali is also known as "Gurkhali" (language of the Gurkhas), "Khaskura" (language of the Khas), and "Parbatiya" (mountain language). He might have added many more to the list of mystifying names for this pleasantly uncomplicated vernacular.

The proper source for the ABSMal words of Nepal is in the Tibetan Lexicon of Jaschke (London, 1889) or any of the many excellent Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries that have appeared in the last thousand years. The Tibetan-Mongolian dictionary printed for the Finno-Ugrian Institute of Helsinki is also to be recommended when available. It will be found that many of the Mongol names are merely translations of the Tibetan names originating in the monasteries of Sikkim, Ladakh, and Tibet itself.

When, how, and why Buddhism came to Tibet, it is not necessary to explain, except to say that with Buddhism came a hybrid form of Sanskrit known as Pali. The Tibetan scholars, however, were not content merely with the loan of several thousand Pali and Sanskrit technical terms, but they set about making Tibetan compounds and formulae to serve in their place. The translation of the Buddhist canon into Tibetan took place at an early date, and the number of Sanskrit words to be found in these books is smaller than in some of the corresponding European translations. But this absence of loan-words was not true of translations made from the Tibetan into Sanskrit, Lepcha, Ladakhi, and the other languages of Buddhist North India. In these, Tibetan words were to be found in plenty,

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and what is more, the people to the south were not always sure of the meaning of these words, a problem that has been solved for them only during the last century. Hindu scholars * found themselves in this position more frequently than Buddhist scholars, who had access to a better class of dictionaries. The effect of this literary exchange on Nepal and its dependencies was formidable. To this day, Nepal continues to borrow words from the Tibetans, to the great distress of the Indian telegraph offices, who are called on to handle such messages. And whenever a Nepali is at a loss for words, he is more likely than not to throw in a Tibetan phrase, much as the English are addicted to bad French in times of stress.

Another factor which must be considered before we pass on to our glossary is that of the Comparative Philology of the Indic and Tibetan pronouns. The resemblance of the third personal forms of Nepali and Tibetan are remarkable, and of great importance to our subject. We must also advert in more detail to the significance of Lamaist Buddhism for the philology of ABSMal words. In southern Tibet and Nepal, there subsists a great religious tradition which has for its focal point the mystery of the Sangbai-dagpo, or "Concealed Lords." This religion certainly antedates Lamaism, and is obsessed with the transmigration of the human soul into the bodies of the lower anthropoids. The ABSMs are revered by the adherents of this sect, and the heads, hands, and feet of deceased specimens find their way into their ritual. The effect of this animistic doctrine on Tibetan Buddhism should not be under-estimated. Its effect on the ABSM mystery has, moreover, been felt in two ways: firstly, it motivates the local people to protect these creatures from the quest of the European, and to mislead Westerners wherever possible by passing off the remains of other animals for those of the ABSM. Second, it has resulted in their unwillingness to speak the true names of the ABSM, in much the same way that a Jew is not allowed to mouth the name of the God of Israel. Thus, the names that find their way into the literature almost all fall into the classification of indefinite pronouns or else generic terms that describe other species as well as the ABSM. This is also the case with the Mongolian words.

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Said to originate from the Kunlun Mountain region.

A Mongolian word, in transcription to Tibetan. (No relation with the Hebrew adam.)

Meaning unknown. Its origin could be highly various.

(2) ALBAST (also, Alboosty)

From the Mongol alub (traveler), and usud (water).

Thus, "One who moves over (lives in) wet places."

(3) ALMAS (also, Almasty)

Mongol ala (to kill), and mal (cattle).

Thus, "One who can kill stock (cattle) animals."

(4) CHUTEY (and by various spellings)

Tibetan Tssu (a diminutive), teh (it thing).

Thus, "The little (living) thing."


Tibetan Dzhu (big, or hulking), teh (it thing).

Thus: "A hulking (living) thing."

(6) GOLBO (also Golub-yavan; Guli-biavan; Gul-biyavan; Kul-bii-aban; Uli-bieban; Yavan-adam.)

Mongolian terms composed of gul (inf. auxiliary), and bayi (to stand) or yabu (to walk), as in yabugul (to send). Dam, probably "dharma" (but not the Semitic "adam")—i.e. "An Entity or Manifest Being." Note: this word does not always occur in combination with the golbo stem.

Thus; "A living entity that (also) stands upright and walks."

(7) HUN-GURESSU (also Khun-goroos; Kumchin-gorgosu)

Mongolian khun (man), and kur (to reach), orgen (long). The verb osu (to multiply) should also be mentioned in connection with this and associated terms.

Thus, "The Man-like One with extra long arms."

(8) JELMOGUZ-JEZ-TYRMAK (pronounced dzhel-moghul-dzh-tura-muk)

Mongolian dzhel (big), moghul (great), dzh (a conjunctive), tura (hills—a Tibetan loan-word), and muk (a generic suffix).

Thus, "Great big living things not found in all but in most hilly places."

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(9) KANGMI (also [?] Chumis; Meh-Teh; Mige; Migo; Migu; Mih-Teh; Rimi, etc.)

Tibetan gyang (scrambling, pulling), and mieh (3rd pers. sing. n., for "Man"). Tibetan kung (foot) should also be noted in this connection, but, assuming the transcription to be colloquial in origin, gyang is more probable.

Thus, "The Man-Creature that scrambles." (And, note that this is exactly as described by the Dzungarians anent these, as described in Chapter 13, who said that their ABSMs climbed like spiders.)


In part as in (8) above. Mongolian qupa (climbing or clutching), tura (hills—a Tibetan loan-word). Urdu uses the word qupatur for "illegitimate son" and qaputra for "degenerate or unworthy ones." In our transliteration, "khoop-turr."

Thus, "A primitive climbing creature of the hills—One who 'hooks on to' rocks, etc. But definitely not an animal."

(11) KSY-GIIK (Ksy-Gyik and possibly Kish-giik)

Mongolian kusegchin (pejorative; in the sense of a "curse"). (The Urga lexicon does not agree with Poppe's rendering), and ngui (blackness).

Thus, "The black-colored Abominable Ones."

(12) MEH-TEH (also Me-Teh)

For the Me, see also Kangmi, Mige, Migo, Migu, Mihteh, Samjda.

For teh, see also Dzu-Teh, Mih-Teh, Yeti.

Tibetan mieh (3rd. pers. sing. n., for "man"; corresponding to Nepali mi, meaning "it"—something more closely related to m//la [a being] than to po). Tibetan teh (living thing) corresponds to Nepali ti (a 3rd pers. rel. pronoun, implying "remote distance," as in Spanish aguel. This word, in fact, shows up in the literature in much the same context as the English word "vermin" or American "varmint."

Thus, "A manlike living thing, that is not a human being."

(13) METOH-KANGMI (i.e. Col. Howard-Bury's original signal)

This could be either: (a) a pure mistake for Meh-Teh, Me-Teh, Mieh-teh, etc., or (b) MIEH-TÜH, meaning "One who can carry off a Man."

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(14) MI-GE

For mi, see (12) above. The Tibetan mieh, or the Nepali mi, meaning a "man-thing" as opposed to either a Man or a Woman and ge (an object).

Thus, "A (neuter) Man-Thing or creature; but definitely a corporate, living one."

(15) MI-GO

Apart from the mi (Tibetan; see above), the go is probably gyo meaning "fast" or "quick."

Thus, "The fast-moving Manlike Creature."

(16) MI-GU

Again mi as above—perhaps the Tibetan mi plus again gyo but equally probably gyu meaning "cave."

Thus, "The cave-dwelling manlike creature."

(17) MI-TEH (see also Me-Teh)

This is actually as here written a Tibetan loan-word, a version of mieh plus teh (as in Me-Teh). However, it is probably a mere mis-transliteration by the "westerner" who first recorded it.


The Tibetan transcription of the Pali niyalam//la, a Buddhist theological term describing a class of manlike beings. This is thus as near a "proper name" for any Asiatic ABSM that we have.


Tibetan rag (to claw), dzh (a conjunctive), and bompo (to handle) note; adjective, handlike, in ETib.

Thus, "The handy one (or with prominent hands) who claws at things."

(20) RI-MI

(For mi, see (12) above), and ri (mountain).

Thus, "A Man-Creature of the Mountains."

(21) SOGPA

Tibetan, transcribed into Khmer syllabary as dzhogbo, implying "a mystery." (Note: This name is used only on the south slopes of the Himalayan ranges where the ABSMs are not indigenous.)

Thus, "The Mysterious Ones."

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(22) TEH-LMA

From teh meaning in Tibetan literally (as in Cockney English) "That-there thing" (i.e. a 3rd. pers. rel. pronoun implying remote distance) and Lma, a corruption arising from an incorrect reading for the ligature m//la which, in Pali, means a class of "manlike beings."

(23) ULI-BIEBAN (see also (6) above).

Mongolian ulus (strange people or tribe), and bieban (adjectival for "that which walks upright" with the implication of "nonetheless").

Thus, "Strange or Not-quite-right people who nevertheless walk upright."

(24) YAVAN-ADAM (see also (6) above).

Mongolian yaban (walking), and dam (being).

Thus, "A living entity who walks upright."

(25) YETI (see, in part, (12) above).

This is rapidly becoming the key name used by foreigners for ABSM in the Himalayan region. The Nepali pronoun ye, and the Tibetan teh, produce the provincial yite, yihda, and yehda. Herein, there is no connection with the Mongolian yati (cold), the ye being a dual form of yi (these) in literary Newari (see Turner's dictionary). Nepalese ti may not be current among the hill people—see letter read before the Benares Congress in Observance of the 2500th Anniversary of the Buddha by one Anag. dzhi-blo-Langyarup. From teh (see above) meaning "living thing," we get a concept that again can be expressed only in Cockney English. This is simply "That-there Thing."


See possibly in part also (7) above; but, further information would be appreciated since zerleg has a most profane meaning in Karaturki, and the recorder of this expression probably was not conversant with this tongue.

Note: Bears in Tibetan are "dara-unjeh."


453:* Permanent Committee on Geographical Place Names.

455:* By this term should be understood central and eastern Eurasia, and the Himalayan ranges of the continent of Orientalia (see Map XV).

458:* One of the most notorious examples of such presumption is one "Sri Swami" Pranavananda (See J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc.) whose anxiety to discredit the existence of the ABSM led him to betray a complete ignorance of the U-chan, or written Tibetan, as in his contention that teh (3rd per. sing. rel. pron.) means "bear"!

Next: Appendix B. The Importance of Feet