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Definition: An animal classified by the presence of a single horn. A unicorn.

Pronunciation: mon-ah-ser-us (note: pronounce the ‘ah’ as you would the first ‘o’ in rhinoceros).


Entered English from French in the 13th century (Monoceros was the French word for a unicorn). The word has strong Latin and Greek roots – ‘Monoceros’ (Latin) and ‘Monokeros’ (Greek) – both referring to a creature with one horn. There is some speculation that it is linked to an even earlier Hebrew word re’em, referring to an ox-like animal.

The word literally means ‘One Horn’ – ‘mono’ referring to ‘one’ and ‘ceros’ referring to ‘horn’.

Incidentally – Monoceros is also the name of a constellation located south of Gemini and east of Orion. It was discovered and named in the 1500’s.

Why This Word?

Apart from simply liking this word, it is interesting that the English language has decided to keep the word for an animal with one horn – monoceros – and the word for an animal with a horn on its nose – ‘rhinoceros’ – but saw no need for a term to refer to animals with, say, two horns – which is most of them. In fact, apart from the Narwhal, which, as a sea creature probably doesn’t even qualify, I am at a loss to name any other such animals. Instead, we have a useless classification for animals that includes only the Unicorn – and that is fictitious.

How to use the word monoceros in a sentence?  

Rather than a guide to ‘how to use this word’, I’ll give you a guide to ‘how not to use this word’. That cow that has only one horn left because the other one fell off? That’s not a monoceros. The nerdy kid that plays brass instruments and always carries his trumpet with him everywhere? He’s not a monoceros. And finally – your car has only one horn – but that does not make it a monoceros.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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