Nahuatl etymology of "Olmec"

Jim Rader jrader at
Mon Jan 6 14:26:05 UTC 2003

Seeing that the recent reaction to the website has
everyone on the list wide awake, I thought I would forward the
following query from Alan Hartley (with his permission), which
appeared on the electronic newsletter of SSILA (Society for the
Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas).  Mr. Hartley
has since informed me that he received replies from Fran Karttunen
and Bill Bright.  If anyone else has anything of interest to say, I
would be curious as well.

Jim Rader

Nahuatl etymology of "Olmec"
>From Alan H. Hartley (ahartley at 20 Dec 2002:

I am a consultant on American Indian ethnonyms for the OED.  In
reviewing the proposed OED entries OLMEC and OLMECA
(primarily for the proper sense assignment of the various English
citations), I thought it would be wise also to solicit expert opinion
on the etymology. The recent stages are clear--Sp. Olmeca <
Nahuatl olmecah (sg. form olmecatl)--but on the gloss of the
Nahuatl name as 'people of the land of rubber' and its derivation
from olman 'land of rubber' (< olli 'rubber') the consensus is less
solid.  As I'm not equipped to etymologize in Nahuatl, I wonder if
there's someone who could help.  Also, early attestations of the
name are often in juxtaposition or composition with the name
Xical(l)anca.  Can anyone tell me the earliest occurrence of the
name (as olmeca or ulmeca) in either the simple or the composite

                                     --Alan Hartley
                                     Duluth, Minnesota
                                     (ahartley at

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