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The Strange History Of The Word 'Pokemon'

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Turns out, Pokémon didn’t start with Nintendo and Game Freak. Or at least, the word didn’t.

This piece originally appeared 5/22/15.

Pokémon, as you likely know, is short for Pocket Monsters. The global sensation has captured the hearts, minds, and other organs—all of which presumably say their own names and evolve into better organs—for two decades. But the word “Pokemon,” somewhat shockingly, was around long before it reemerged as an iconic portmanteau.


Once upon a time, “Pokemon” (or “Pokemen”) was a 19th century Cornish dialect word meaning stupid or clumsy. I first came across this information via a random imgur post, but I did some digging and found mention of the word as An Actual Thing in both a text about the Cornish dialect and an article from the BBC. The connection to Pokémon as we know it today is pure coincidence, but still: weird, right?

Also interesting: “Dumbledore” was a Celtic Cornish word referring to a thorn, a bryer, or a bramble. Apparently this was an inspiration for the character of the same name in Harry Potter.


Oh, and to top off this sundae of nearly useless knowledge, Pokémon was also the name of an emo-like youth subculture in Chile in the mid-2000s. So... the more you know.