Giraffe (n.) - What do you call a camel crossed with a leopard?
What do you call a camel crossed with a leopard? Apparently it’s a...
A large long necked mammal with a spotted coat similar to a leopard.
History & Etymology
As you probably know there aren’t many giraffes in England or Northern Europe. This means there wasn’t really a word for this animal in english, and anytime someone needed to refer to a giraffe they would have to borrow a word from another language. Giraffe just happens to be one of these borrowed words.
The modern word giraffe we use today was borrowed from French in the 1600, who had intern borrowed it from an Arabic language in the 13 century, who probably borrowed it ultimately from a native African language.
Because this particular animal was so infrequent, yet was quite fascinating to people, it was mentioned from time to time in texts about the natural world, and each time it was mentioned it seemed to have a different name. Many writers seemed to have a different spin on the name for this creature. Some examples would include:
This last one was probably due to some confusion on the part of the author with Olifaunt, where we get the modern word elephant.
But the main word used in English before the adoption of giraffe was...
Camelopard comes from Ancient Greek. One of the sources I looked at described how the ancient Greeks believed that the giraffe was an unnatural cross breed between a camel and a leopard. It’s a portmanteau of the greek words for those two animals "κάμηλος" (kamēlos) and "πάρδαλις" (pardalis). Camelopard came into english not directly as a reference to the animal, but to the constellation Camelopardalis created by Petrus Plancius it 1613.