The giraffe

The Afrikaans word for giraffe is “Kameelperd” which literally means “camel horse”. Why? On first appearance, a giraffe is not really much like either. Like a camel, it’s an even-toed ungulate, unlike the horse which is odd-toed. So maybe it’s an even-toed horse. But it’s really nothing like a horse either. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought giraffes were a mixture between a camel and a leopard, but I’m not sure that that’s any more well-informed, to be honest. The name “giraffe” is actually an Anglicised form of the Arabic word “Xirapha”, meaning “one who walks swiftly.” Which actually makes sense, since they can run at 35 mph, though only for very short periods. I do wonder why none of the names for a giraffe make reference to the most obvious features – its height and its extreme long neck and legs. Despite their swift walking, it doesn’t keep them very safe from predators, and this is one of the reasons they neither sleep much (only ever for a couple of minutes at a time, and only in total for about an hour a night) and can go for long periods without drinking. So it seems the Afrikaners are actually quite smart, because like the horse, the giraffe sleeps mostly standing up, and uses its long legs to kick very effectively, while like the camel, it doesn’t need to drink much. However, contrary to popular belief (and despite numerous references on the internet), it is not, and never has been, illegal to fish from a giraffe’s back in Idaho. Now you know.


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