“The famous foundling reared by apes in the African jungle was created in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), Tarzan has had countless adventures in novels and films, in which he communes with animals, rescues damsels in distress and discovers long lost civilizations. The first novel of 24 in which he appears is Tarzan of the Apes (1914). In the ‘monkey language’ that Burroughs invented for him, his name means ‘white’ from tar, and zan, ‘skin.’ He is given this name by his foster-mother, Kala the ape. The name came to be adopted for any apparent ‘he-man’ and was bestowed by the media on the Conservative politician Michael Heseltine (b. 1933), not only for his height and blond hair but also with reference to an incident of 1976 when he brandished the House of Commons mace to protect it. Tarzana, now a suburban residential section of Los Angeles, was named in honour of Tarzan.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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