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[juh-raf or, esp. British, -rahf] /dʒəˈræf or, esp. British, -ˈrɑf/
a tall, long-necked, spotted ruminant, Giraffa camelopardalis, of Africa: the tallest living quadruped animal.
(initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Camelopardalis.
1585-95; < French girafe < Italian giraffa < dialectal Arabic zirāfah, perhaps < Persian zurnāpā Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for giraffes
  • giraffes sport impossibly long necks that provide access to the leaves atop trees.
  • giraffes are so tall because their ancestors ate the top branches off trees.
  • giraffes' long necks are perfectly suited to harvesting tender leaves beyond the reach of other herbivores.
  • giraffes need to recognize and mate with others of their own kind-and not, say, with antelopes or okapi.
  • The idea that mating behavior might have something to do with sauropod anatomy was inspired by giraffes.
  • There are some astonishingly clever and thought-provoking mechanisms covering animals from giraffes to flies to chameleons.
  • Different neck-lengths in giraffes may confer an advantage on those with the longest necks.
  • Other, cruder images surrounding the giraffes were likely incised much more recently.
  • Make an antelope put its neck out for high-growing leaves, and its distant descendants will be giraffes.
  • giraffes do it, goats do it, birds and bonobos and dolphins do it.
British Dictionary definitions for giraffes


/dʒɪˈrɑːf; -ˈræf/
noun (pl) -raffes, -raffe
a large ruminant mammal, Giraffa camelopardalis, inhabiting savannas of tropical Africa: the tallest mammal, with very long legs and neck and a colouring of regular reddish-brown patches on a beige ground: family Giraffidae
Word Origin
C17: from Italian giraffa, from Arabic zarāfah, probably of African origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for giraffes



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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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