- Either of two large reptiles, Alligator mississipiensis of the southeast United States or A. sinensis of China, having sharp teeth and powerful jaws. They differ from crocodiles in having a broader, shorter snout.
- Leather made from the hide of one of these reptiles.
- A tool or fastener having strong, adjustable, often toothed jaws.
[Alteration of Spanish el lagarto, the lizard : el, the (from Latin ille, that) + lagarto, lizard (from Latin lacertus).]
WORD HISTORY In The Travailes of an Englishman, published in 1568, Job Hortop says that â€œin this river we killed a monstrous Lagarto or Crocodile.â€ This killing gives rise to the first recorded instance of alligator in English, obviously in a different form from the one familiar to modern speakers. Alligator, which comes to us from Spanish el lagarto, â€œthe lizard,â€ was modified in pronunciation and form in several ways before taking on the form alligator. Such changes, referred to by linguists as taboo deformation, are not uncommon in a name for something that is feared and include, for example, the change in sequence of the r and t that occurred between el lagarto and alligator. An interesting parallel case is crocodile, which appears in Spanish, for example, as cocodrilo, with a similar difference in the sequence of the r. The earliest recorded form of alligator that is similar to ours appears in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (First Folio, 1623): â€œIn his needie shop a tortoyrs hung,/An Allegater stuft.â€