Word of the Day / Gamal גמל

Ride it or read it, the Hebrew word for that long-necked, hump-backed desert animal shares a linguistic genealogy with the English name it eventually inspired.

The third letter of the Hebrew alphabet gimel, is related to the Hebrew word gamal, the name of the animal the letter's long neck is supposed to resemble. Which animal? Replace the first letter, g, with a c, and you almost have it – the camel. The English word "camel" comes down through the alphabetical ages from the word "gimel." Not surprisingly, camels are mentioned frequently in the Bible; Rebecca "fell off" her one-humped ride when she first saw Isaac (according to a literal reading of the Hebrew in Gen. 24:64).

King Solomon also has a camel connection: The praying mantis is known in Hebrew as gamal hamelekh Shlomo - King Solomon's camel. A folktale says the name comes from the fact that the king became angry at his camel and did it the disservice of turning it into this fascinating but unsavory insect (which apparently does more preying than praying). However, considering Solomon had the power to converse with animals (I Kings 4:33), you'd think he would have used talk therapy to work through his issues.

Shoshana Kordova will resume enlightening and entertaining Word of the Day readers on October 9.