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[guh-ril-uh] /gəˈrɪl ə/
the largest of the anthropoid apes, Gorilla gorilla, terrestrial and vegetarian, of western equatorial Africa and the Kivu highlands, comprising the subspecies G. g. gorilla (western lowland gorilla) G. g. graueri (eastern lowland gorilla) and G. g. beringei (mountain gorilla) now rare.
an ugly, brutish person.
Slang. a hoodlum or thug, especially one who threatens or inflicts violence.
Origin of gorilla
1790-1800; < New Latin < Greek Goríllās (accusative plural) name for the females of a hairy tribe encountered in Hanno's account of his voyage along the coast of Africa (5th century b.c.)
Related forms
gorillalike, adjective
gorillian, gorilline
[guh-ril-ahyn, -in] /gəˈrɪl aɪn, -ɪn/ (Show IPA),
gorilloid, adjective
Can be confused
gorilla, guerrilla. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for gorilla
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • While he was eating the banana, I took the gorilla from the cage and set him on the ground by it.

    Gorillas & Chimpanzees R. L. Garner
  • Chipmunk with the strength of a gorilla and the courage of a lion.

    The Rough Road William John Locke
  • Then I was born, so small, a head as a tub, and long arms like a gorilla.

  • We had no wish, either, to remain longer than necessary in the gorilla region.

    In the Wilds of Africa W.H.G. Kingston
  • He traced out with me, on a map, what he believed to be the south and south-east limits of the gorilla.

    Gorillas & Chimpanzees R. L. Garner
British Dictionary definitions for gorilla


the largest anthropoid ape, Gorilla gorilla, inhabiting the forests of central W Africa. It is stocky and massive, with a short muzzle and coarse dark hair
(informal) a large, strong, and brutal-looking man
Derived Forms
gorilla-like, adjective
gorillian, gorilline (ɡəˈrɪlaɪn) adjective
gorilloid, adjective
Word Origin
C19: New Latin, from Greek Gorillai, an African tribe renowned for their hirsute appearance
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for gorilla

1847, applied to the apes (Troglodytes gorills) by U.S. missionary Thomas Savage, from Greek gorillai, plural of name given to wild, hairy people in a Greek translation of Carthaginian navigator Hanno's account of his voyage along the N.W. coast of Africa, c.500 B.C.E. Allegedly an African word.

In its inmost recess was an island similar to that formerly described, which contained in like manner a lake with another island, inhabited by a rude description of people. The females were much more numerous than the males, and had rough skins: our interpreters called them Gorillae. We pursued but could take none of the males; they all escaped to the top of precipices, which they mounted with ease, and threw down stones; we took three of the females, but they made such violent struggles, biting and tearing their captors, that we killed them, and stripped off the skins, which we carried to Carthage: being out of provisions we could go no further. [Hanno, "Periplus"]
Of persons perceived as being gorilla-like, from 1884.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for gorilla



  1. (also gorill) A ruffian; goon: Strong-arm men, gorillas, and tough gangsters/ Those gorills do not care anything about law (1904+)
  2. A hired killer; hit man (1920s+)
  3. Anything very powerful and unstoppable; anything very forceful and intimidating: It is very simple to create the appearance of a ''gorilla,'' a product with a lot of momentum (1980s+)


  1. To steal or rob with threat and violence: if you let somebody gorilla you out of some money (1960s+)
  2. To beat someone up; savage someone; clobber: If that doesn't work, we'll gorilla a little bit/ You ain't gonna gorilla anybody (1960s+)

Related Terms

six-hundred-pound gorilla

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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