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See also: Mastodon


molar teeth of a mastodon

Alternative forms[edit]


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.



mastodon (plural mastodons)

  1. 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”.
  2. (figurative) 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.

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Related terms[edit]



  1. ^ mastodon”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1996–present.
  2. ^ mastodon”, in Cambridge English Dictionary, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 1999–present, retrieved 04 May 2022.

Further reading[edit]