1. Etymology and Naming

The word “sloth” comes from the Middle English word slouthe or slewthe, meaning “laziness”, which comes from the Old English word slǣwþ meaning sloth, indolence, laziness, inertness, or torpor.

In 1749 the French Naturalist Georges Buffon described them thus:

“Slowness, habitual pain, and stupidity are the results of this strange and bungled conformation. These sloths are the lowest form of existence. One more defect would have made their lives impossible.”

In most languages the name for “sloth” is equivalent to some form of slowness, lateness, indolence, or laziness, leading to centuries of stereotyping sloths as creatures lacking in motivation.

sloth illustration buffon

An illustration of a sloth from the Comte de Buffon’s ‘Histoire Naturelle’.