Today I Discovered Giraffes Used To Be Called 'Camel Leopards'

Image: iStock

Languages are so interesting and the etymology of 'giraffe' legitimately did blow my mind this morning. The English word for giraffe, until about the 1600s, was not actually 'giraffe'.

Nope. They used to be known as 'Camelopards'.

Originating from the Greek kamelos, meaning 'camel', and pardalis, meaning 'leopard', the long-necked ruminants of the African Savannah literally used to be known as 'Camel leopards'. It's pretty obvious, when looking at a giraffe, just how that name might have stuck.

The characteristic spots on the animal's body and it's camel-like head does make it seem like a totally apt description for the lanky, loping beast.

The modern English term 'giraffe' is borrowed from the French 'girafe', which itself has origins in the Arabic 'zarāfa'. Zarāfa, like the Greek, arises from the idea that a giraffe is an amalgamation of other animals.

Though considered largely docile, perhaps the giraffe itself has more in common with the leopard than the camel when it comes to staking out their own territories. You likely consider the giraffe a majestic, kind creature - but when they're battling for a mate they get vicious, using their skulls to crash into the bodies of their rivals, as you can see in the video below.

Nature is the best.

Interestingly, the 'camelopard' name lives on in the form of a constellation, introduced by Petrus Plancius way back in the early 17th Century known as Camelopardalis. The constellation is the 18th largest in the northern sky, but is a relatively dull constellation with only four stars brighter than magnitude 5.0.

[Thanks, Reddit]


    In Afrikaans thay are called, Kameelperd which directly translates to camel horse.

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