Our story begins on the 1921 British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. The British Empire was at its territorial peak and a team of explorers were commissioned to snoop around the mountains of Tibet to find a route to access Mt. Everest. Political and personal differences were causing schisms among the group and a younger explorer with no former experience in the Himalayas had fallen ill. As you can imagine, tensions were pretty high on this death-defying journey. Fortunately, the team was able to find Lhagba La (meaning, “Windy Gap”), which gave future expeditions access to Mt. Everest. The mission was a success and the team returned home safely.
But it was there at Lhagba La where it happened! A Bigfoot sighting! But, what’s even more exciting (for us language nerds, at least), was that a mistranslation occurred! …ok, now that I hear myself say it, I can see why people would think that a Bigfoot sighting is more interesting than a mistranslation.
Anyhoo, the explorers saw what they thought were some giant footprints in the snow and the local guides among them said that they belonged to “metoh-kangmi.” The word, “metoh” means something like “man-bear” and “kangmi” means “snowman.” Literally, “metoh-kangmi” means something to the effect of, “man-bear snowman.”
Now, the expedition leader was British and when the locals said “metoh-kangmi,” he heard, “metch kangmi.” It was an honest mistake; our native languages can affect how we hear foreign words. In the Tibetan language, the consonants, “t-c-h,” never go together, so “metch” isn’t even a real Tibetan word, but a writer for a newspaper in Calcutta somehow mistranslated it as “filthy.” “The filthy snowman” doesn’t have a good ring to it, so he took a bit of artistic license and rendered it, “The Abominable Snowman,” which is so awesome that by the time people realized the mistake, nobody wanted to correct it.
And that, boys and girls, is how we got the term, “The Abominable Snowman.”
Interesting side note: in Basic Training, the other soldiers nicknamed me, “The Abominable Snowman.” How I got that name is a story for another day.