1. A large carnivorous feline mammal (Panthera leo) of Africa and northwest India, having a short tawny coat, a tufted tail, and, in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders.
2. A mountain lion.
a. A very brave person.
b. A person regarded as fierce or savage.
c. A noted person; a celebrity: a literary lion.
4. Lion See Leo.
The greatest or best part.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin leō, leōn-, from Greek leōn, of Semitic origin; see lbʾ in the Appendix of Semitic roots.]
Word History: Old French lion is the source of English lion, and the Old French word comes from Latin leō, leōnis. The Latin word is related somehow to Greek leōn, leontos (earlier *lewōn, *lewontos), which appears in the name of the Spartan king Leonidas, "Lion's son," who perished at Thermopylae. The Greek word is somehow related to Coptic labai, laboi, "lioness." In turn, Coptic labai is borrowed from a Semitic source related to Hebrew lābī' and Akkadian labbu. There is also a native ancient Egyptian word, rw (where r can stand for either r or l and vowels were not indicated), which is surely related as well. Since lions were native to Africa, Asia, and Europe in ancient times (Aristotle tells us there were lions in Macedon in his day), we have no way of ascertaining who borrowed which word from whom.
(click for a larger image)lion
male (left) and female (right) lions
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.