- A small arctic whale, Monodon monoceros, the male of which has a long, spirally twisted tusk extending forward from the upper jaw.
Also, nar·wal, nar·whale
Origin:[1650–60; < Scandinavian; compare Norwegian, Swedish, Danish nar ( h ) val, reshaped from Old Norse nāhvalr, equivalent to nār corpse + hvalr whale1 ; allegedly so called because its skin resembles that of a human corpse.]
First off, let’s address where Narwhal comes from. Seriously, Scandinavians? You named these whales after what a corpse looks like once it’s been floating in the ocean for a bit?
For realz, yo.
And then there were those brilliant thinkers of the Middle Ages who were convinced the Norwhal’s horn was ACTUALLY the horn of the unicorn and since unicorns are magical and stuff then the horns OBVIOUSLY needed to be “harvested” and ground up and used as “medicine.”
Cause that makes sense.
Some medieval Europeans believed narwhal tusks to be the horns from the legendary unicorn. As these horns were considered to have magic powers, such as the ability to cure poison and melancholia, Vikings and other northern traders were able to sell them for many times their weight in gold. The tusks were used to make cups that were thought to negate any poison that may have been slipped into the drink. During the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth received a carved and bejeweled narwhal tusk for £10,000—the cost of a castle (approximately £1.5—2.5 Million in 2007, using the retail price index). The tusks were staples of the cabinet of curiosities.
Before I started writing this, I knew what a narwhal was but I had no idea what a place the blubbered mammal had made for itself in pop-culture.
Who knew narwhals were so freakin’ cool?!
-  “narwal.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. Feb. 2011. ↩
-  Daston, Lorraine and Katharine Park. Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. New York: Zone Books, 2001 | Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2007 | Shepard, Odell (1956). The Lore of the Unicorn. Harper and Row Publishers | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narwhal ↩