late 14c., Pigmei, "member of a fabulous race of dwarfs," described by Homer and Herodotus and said to inhabit Egypt and India, from L. Pygmaeus, from Gk. Pygmaios, from an adj. meaning "dwarfish," lit. "of the length of a pygme" -- forearm and fist, measure of distance from the elbow to the knuckles, related to pyx "with clenched fist" and to L. pugnus "fist." Applied 19c. to the central African people now known by that name.