Word for Wednesday: Giraffe

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Continuing the animal-themed posts, this week we’ll be looking at the unusual word ‘giraffe’.

The word made its way to English through the 13th century French ‘girafe’. This replaced our earlier word for the creature: ‘camelopard’ which is, as you probably figured, a combination of camel and leopard - weren’t we inventive!

It is very likely that the first travellers to venture to Africa and report their discoveries returned with the native words to describe them. As such, in the earliest recordings of the word giraffe the spelling varies drastically, including ‘ziraph’ – which was a missed opportunity to add another ‘z’ word to the language…

Imagine the life of an ancient explorer, constantly discovering new animals and lands, think of the sense of wonder (and probably fear!) they must have encountered.

For now I’ll just stick with the wonder of exploring the English language!

Hugh MacDermott

10 Jun 2015
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