What's the Difference Between the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, and Bigfoot?
Whether they're said to trod through snow or skulk in swamps, stories of mysterious ape men are a common theme throughout the world. Hairy humanoid cryptids go by dozens of monikers—many have remained local legends (Skunk Ape, Yowie, Moehau aren’t exactly household names) while others have incited curiosity far beyond their supposed territories. A few mythical creatures that should sound familiar to skeptics and believers alike are the Yeti, Bigfoot, and the Abominable Snowman. While these beasts share plenty of similarities, each has a unique origin story.
Let’s start with the Yeti, the oldest legend of the bunch. Lore of a man-like beast in the Himalayas has its roots in pre-Buddhist religion. The Lepcha people recognized a supernatural “Glacier Being” as one of their hunting gods and the ruler of all the forest’s creatures. It wasn’t until later that an early version of the term “Yeti” emerged. Most experts believe it derives from a Sherpa word, possibly yeh-teh meaning “small, man-like animal” or meti meaning “bear.” The Yeti starred as the antagonist of many cautionary folk tales shared by the Sherpa people. In their legends, the creature was depicted as an apelike man who left large tracks in the snow.
The phrase Abominable Snowman appeared relatively recently, and was born out of a messy mistranslation. In 1921, a contributor to an Indian English-language newspaper interviewed explorers returning from the British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. They spoke of seeing large footprints on the mountain their guides attributed to Metoh-Kangmi. Kangmi translates to “Snowman” and Metoh to “Man-Bear”— the writer got the half of that equation right but misinterpreted metoh as “filthy.” Instead of writing “Filthy Snowman” he decided he liked the sound of “Abominable” better and the nickname stuck
“Abominable Snowman” and “Yeti” are basically different names for the same legend, but Bigfoot is a different beast altogether. Like the Yeti, Sasquatch, later dubbed “Bigfoot,” is believed to be a large, shaggy primate that walks upright like a man. The main difference between the two mythical animals is their location. While the Yeti belongs to Asia, Bigfoot is thought to be native to North America, specifically the Pacific Northwest. Tales of ape-like wild men inhabiting that region can be traced back to indigenous communities—“Sasquatch” is derived from sésquac, a Halkomelem word meaning “wild man”—but the name “Bigfoot” is a 20th century original invention.
Once again we have a creative journalist to thank for the popular title. In 1958, a man discovered large, unidentifiable footprints left near his bulldozer in Bluff Creek, California. He made a cast of the prints and got himself featured in the local paper. By this time people in the community were referring to the mysterious owner of the massive tracks as “Big Foot.” The writer of the article spelled it “Bigfoot” and the rest was history.
Despite originating thousands of miles apart, some modern-day believers suspect that the creatures belong to one species. One popular theory is that Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman/Yeti are both Gigantopithecus, a polar bear-sized ape native to southern Asia believed to have gone extinct 300,000 years ago. While chances are slim that the species migrated to North America with its homo sapiens relatives, that hasn’t stopped many cryptozoology enthusiasts from wanting to believe.
Join the search for the Yeti with host Josh Gates on Expedition Unknown: Hunt for the Yeti, this Wednesday at 9/8c only on Travel Channel.