Khaled Ahmad's most recent Word for Word column in the (Lahore, Pakistan) Daily Times ("Is camel beautiful?", June 18, 2006) tell us that
The word for beauty [in Arabic] is “jamaal” which is taken from “jml” the root that means camel. The popular name in Urdu Jameel means beautiful. Why are the Arabs so taken up with the camel? [In Urdu] We call it “oont” which points to the animal’s very ugly lip. [...] Hundreds of Arabic words are derived from the various motions of the animal. [...]
The Arabs got the horse from outside their region; but once they got used to its qualities, they took it to their heart. Two very important Arabic words that we use today are derived from the horse and not from the camel.
The root sas in Arabic points to the horse and the word siyasat for politics is derived from it. The art of training a horse through a saees — another word in Urdu meaning horse-trainer from the same root — is supposed to be akin to statesmanship.
Another word we use for wisdom in Urdu is farasat. This comes from the Arabic root frs and means horse.
This reminded me of an old joke about Arabic lexicography that I couldn't quite remember, so I appealed to Roger Allen, who furnished this version:
Every Arabic word has a basic meaning, a second meaning which is the exact opposite of the first, a third meaning which refers to either a camel or horse, and a fourth meaning that is so obscene that you'll have to look it up for yourself.
Roger expressed some skepticism that there is really a historical relationship between the "camel" and "beauty" words:
In Hebrew, the gimmel, mem, lamed letters that makes up the words:
Yes, the words "jamaal" and "jamiil" ("beauty" and "beautiful" respectively) and the word "jamal" meaning "camel" are all formed from the same root structure, made up of the three consonants J - M - L. It is impossible to know (until we have done much more rigorously analytical and historical work) what mono- or-bi-consonantal combinations preceded the formation of this tri-consonantal cluster J - M - L , with its two entirely separate and otherwise unlinked sets of meanings. In other words there is no valid reason for linking the concepts of "beauty" and "camel" except for the fact that, in Arabic, they are both derived from the same tri-consontal root structure.
gamal = camel
gemel = pension
and is also the root letters for return and pay-back (לגמול), to wean off, kick the habit. (להיגמל)
If you can come up with an interesting, yet semi-logical way to link them all together, I'll put up the Srugim 2.0 interview that I'm conducting with Laizy.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד