A zebra is a hoofed African mammal (genus Equus). It is distinguished from other horses by its vivid pattern of alternating white and dark brown (or black) stripes. Zebras stand to be about 4 feet tall. They have a stout body and a short thick mane. Zebras inhabit open plains or brush country in herds of up to 1000, and they often mix their herds with othr grazing animals, such as antelope. Zebras are very quick, running at speeds as high as 40 mph.

An interesting fact about the word 'zebra' is that all dictionaries get its origin wrong. They invariable say it's from some African language, and some of them stick their neck out and plump for an Ethiopian or Congolese language. You will hunt in vain for it in any such language.

It appears in fact to be a slightly irregular form derived from Latin equi-ferus 'wild horse'. In early stages of Spanish this gave subsequent forms something like ecifera > ecefra > cebra; most of these sound changes are regular, and can be instanced in other Latin words preserved in Spanish, but a couple are just slightly odd (e.g. -qui- > -ci- too early).

However, all documentary evidence for the word supports the Latin origin, and none a supposed African origin.

Source: an Indo-European linguistics mailing list I participated in. One of the members (R.L. Trask) is an adviser to the Oxford English Dictionary and agreed at the end of the discussion to get it changed in future editions.

(Medical slang terminology)

The health care profession has, like most other fields, an internal terminology of its own, used by its practitioners to communicate among each other with a combination of dark humor and efficiency. As such, there are many terms used to describe categories of situations, conditions, or patients which are used, as hackers use terms in the Jargon File, as a distinct vocabulary

Zebra, in medical terminology, refers to a rare condition or situation. It can refer to either the patient with the condition or the condition itself. (e.g.: "This guy has a real zebra" or"This guy's a zebra")

The origin of the term is shrouded in mystery, but most likely is derivative of a common rule of medical practice:

"When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras."
This is a simple way of saying to look for common things to occur commonly, and rare things to occur rarely.

"Zebras" are the prized discoveries of the intern or resident who correctly diagnoses one and can then stump the other residents, or better yet, the staff physician with a case study during medical rounds. They are the bane of the unlucky doctor who treats the apparent condition only to discover that the hoofbeats did indeed belong to a zebra and not the condition that was diagnosed.

There has been very occasional use of the term "Unicorn" for the almost unheard of case that may come along once in a lifetime - a much more rare occurence than the "zebra" case. This is the one that will likely result in getting written up in a medical journal or the discovery of a new disease (like we need more). The use of this term, however, is as rare as its namesake, and deserves only brief mention in this context.

See also Gomer - Ticks and fleas - Turf

Plains zebras live in the Savanna grasslands of eastern Africa. They're scientific name is equus burchelli. Just a little extra background. But I noticed that the sound a zebra makes wasn't mentioned.

So, what does a zebra sound like? You'd most likely think of a horse. You'd most likely be wrong. Or at least partially wrong. After watching The Lion King, my girlfriend told me that the sound you hear when the camera pans on the zebras is the actual sound they make, which sounds like hooves beating against the ground. Thinking that was wrong, I looked it up. From what I gathered, zebras make a high-pitched barking sound. Actually, it's a little bit of a mix between a bark, a chimp, and some weird plunger-synthesized sound. A soundclip can be heard from http://www.wildsanctuary.com/zebra.html

What I meant by a zebra not sounding like a horse, necessarily, was that mother zebras make a whinnying sound when separated from their foal.

So now you know. Zebras do make sounds, but it's not necessarily like a horse.

Ze"bra (?), n. [Pg. zebra; cf. Sp. cebra; probably from a native African name.] Zool.

Either one of two species of South African wild horses remarkable for having the body white or yellowish white, and conspicuously marked with dark brown or brackish bands.

⇒ The true or mountain zebra (Equus, ∨ Asinus, zebra) is nearly white, and the bands which cover the body and legs are glossy black. Its tail has a tuft of black hair at the tip. It inhabits the mountains of Central and Southern Africa, and is noted for its wariness and wildness, as well as for its swiftness. The second species (Equus, ∨ Asinus, Burchellii), known as Burchell's zebra, and dauw, inhabits the grassy plains of South Africa, and differs from the preceding in not having dark bands on the legs, while those on the body are more irregular. It has a long tail, covered with long white flowing hair.

Zebra caterpillar, the larva of an American noctuid moth (Mamestra picta). It is light yellow, with a broad black stripe on the back and one on each side; the lateral stripes are crossed with withe lines. It feeds on cabbages, beets, clover, and other cultivated plants. -- Zebra opossum, the zebra wolf. See under Wolf. -- Zebra parrakeet, an Australian grass parrakeet, often kept as a cage bird. Its upper parts are mostly pale greenish yellow, transversely barred with brownish black crescents; the under parts, rump, and upper tail coverts, are bright green; two central tail feathers and the cheek patches are blue. Called also canary parrot, scallop parrot, shell parrot, and undulated parrot. -- Zebra poison Bot., a poisonous tree (Euphorbia arborea) of the Spurge family, found in South Africa. Its milky juice is so poisonous that zebras have been killed by drinking water in which its branches had been placed, and it is also used as an arrow poison. J. Smith (Dict. Econ. Plants). -- Zebra shark. Same as Tiger shark, under Tiger. -- Zebra spider, a hunting spider. -- Zebra swallowtail, a very large North American swallow-tailed butterfly (Iphiclides ajax), in which the wings are yellow, barred with black; -- called also ajax. -- Zebra wolf. See under Wolf.


© Webster 1913.

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