by Mark Israel
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
"Kangaroo" does NOT derive from the aboriginal for "I don't
understand".  Captain James Cook's expedition learned the word
from an aboriginal tribe that subsequently couldn't be identified.
Since there were a *large* number of Australian aboriginal
languages, and it has taken some time to record and catalogue the
surviving ones, for many years the story that it meant "I don't
understand" was plausible.  The search was further complicated
by the fact that many aboriginal languages imported the word
*from* English.  But if you consult an up-to-date English
dictionary, such as RHUD2, you will see that "kangaroo" is derived
from the Guugu-Yimidhirr (a language spoken near Cooktown, North
Queensland) word ga<eng>-urru "a large black or grey species
of kangaroo".
   Similar stories are told about "llama" (a Quechua word, not
from the Spanish Como se llama? = "What's it called?"); "indri"
(this one DOES derive from the Malagasy word for "Look!"); and
several place names, among them Canada (kanata was the Huron-
Iroquois word for "village, settlement"; Jacques Cartier is
supposed to have mistaken this for the name of the country);
Istanbul (said to come from a Turkish mishearing of Greek eis ten
poli "to the city"); Luzon (supposedly Tagalog for "What did you
say?"); Nome (supposedly a printer's misreading of a cartographer's
query, "Name?"); Senegal (supposedly from Wolof senyu gal "our
boats"); and Yucatan (supposedly = "I don't understand you").