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1590s, giraffa, from Italian giraffa, from Arabic zarafa, probably from an African language. Earlier Middle English spellings varied wildly, depending on the source, including jarraf, ziraph, and gerfauntz, some apparently directly from Arabic, the last reflecting some confusion with olifaunt "elephant."
In Arabye, þei ben clept Gerfauntz; þat is a best pomelee or spotted .. but a lityll more high þan is a stede, But he hath the necke a xxti cubytes long. [Mandeville's Travels, c.1425]The modern form of the English word is attested by c.1600 and is via French girafe. Replaced earlier camelopard, a compound of camel (for the long neck) and pard (n.1) "leopard" (for the spots).