First attested 1813, from translingual Mastodon (1806), coined by French naturalist Georges Cuvier, from Ancient Greek μαστός (mastós, “breast”) + ὀδούς (odoús, “tooth”), from the similarity of the mammilloid (“nipple-shaped”) projections on the crowns of the extinct mammal's molars.
- (General American) IPA(key): /ˈmæstədɑn/, /ˈmæstədən/
- (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈmæs.tə.dɒn/
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mastodon (plural mastodons)
- Extinct elephant-like mammal of the genus Mammut that flourished worldwide from Miocene through Pleistocene times; differs from elephants and mammoths in the form of the molar teeth.
- Synonym: (archaic) incognitum
- 2014, Elizabeth Kolbert, chapter 2, in The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Henry Holt and Company:
- When, exactly, Europeans first stumbled upon the bones of an American mastodon is unclear. An isolated molar unearthed in a field in upstate New York was sent off to London in 1705; it was labeled the “tooth of a Giant”.
- (figuratively) Anything big or clunky.
- 2017, Nina Laurin, Girl Last Seen:
- The battery is dying, and Natalia's iPhone charger doesn't fit my mastodon of a phone anyway.
- 2020, Finn Laursen, The Development of the EU as a Sea-Policy Actor:
- Nor does it work for governance: the policy has become such a mastodon that we can't adapt it quickly enough to different regions or different circumstances.