Thursday, June 04, 2009

Jameel, the beautiful camel?

From the mail-bag (Mike)...

The four meanings of an Arabic word

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:

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.

In Hebrew, the gimmel, mem, lamed letters that makes up the words:

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


Neshama said...

Does this mean you will be serving some 'Jamaal-Gamal' sized waffles?

LB said...

Ok, this is pretty far fetched, but here goes (along with another one, just for fun):

If someone is an addict he needs to kick the habit - להיגמל

An addition is an illness, and when you're sick in the army you get days off, called - גימ"לים

An alcoholic who kicks the habit is back on the wagon, sometimes pulled by camels (I had to look that up to confirm) - גמל, of course.

And if someone is deathly sick and recovers, they give thanks in the form of ברכת הגומל - having been granted their life back so to speak.

Granting (לגמול) of course is the legitimate etymological origin of the word for pension funds (which are supposed to grant, well, funds) - קופות גמל

aaron.nanach said...


Camels drink a lot of water. Chazal said that water symbolizes Torah. Torah also corresponds to Tiferet / Beauty.

Anonymous said...

camels save up water in their hump, pensions save up money for later.

annie said...

No real connection but I was once at a sheva brachot where a relative dressed up as a camel (it was hilarious: he was standing in a half-barrel, and had the hose of a vacuum cleaner as the camel's neck, etc.) and he sang a song based on כי גמל עלי (Ki Gamal Alai) (for He [Hashem} has rewarded me) which also translates literally as "for there is a camel upon me".

You had to have been there :-)

Anonymous said...

Jastrow has an explanation. He says that the verb gimel-mem-lamed means to load on, just as one loads a camel, except that it came to mean loading on blessings. Hence (I add), the preposition al in ki gamal alai, when one would expect gamal li.

JoeSettler said...

Jameel the Gamal has 3 humps, Jameel the Gamal has 2 humps, Jameel the Gamal has 1 hump, Jameel the Gamal has no humps, because Jameel is a Horse, of course.

Anonymous said...

When baby Isaac was "weaned" he was גמל . Not a camal or beautiful, it means big or old enough.
In Scandinavian gammal mean old.

The GaMaL or JaMaL was named for being the BIGGEST animal around. It is also realted to (sephardic, gutttural) Ayin-Mem-Lamed "work," as a work animal.

Arabic jml as beauty is likely related to the guttural-nasal-liquid word COMELY.

Anonymous said...


If I have to guess? The program to build will be on-going. And, it will also involve Israel's Supreme Court. If Obama keeps howling; why dies Bibi have to change course?

All Obama wants is to put into place the saudi's plan. You remember back to 1993? And, the hoopla when Arafat wanted to go to Beirut to "listen" to the Saudis deliver their plan? It's been "take it or leave it" ever since. And, the saud's have threatened to stop offering it, IF it's not grabbed in a hurry.

Define hurry?

Define why Bibi has to destroy his prime ministership? Events, ahead, will make the bloom fall off Obama's rose.

WHile America's economy is taking a deep swing down; and recovery isn't happening, with all the money tossed out the window.

I think one reason the story doesn't cease? Bibi doesn't say "yes." But time may be on Bibi's hands. Why bother to get into a fixed fight? Everyone knows in Chicago all elections are fixed, ya know?

Neshama said...

I found something very informative on the Gimmel:

The gimel of "today" is the secret of better one hour of teshuvah and good deeds in this world than all the life of the world to come. The gimel of "tomorrow" is the secret of better one hour of serenity in the world to come than all of the life of this world. In Chassidus/Kabbalah:

Camel; bridge; weaning; benevolence.

The camel's journey through the desert of this world. The camel symbolizes the angel of death.
A bridge; the connecting force inherent in nature.
Primordial matter and Divine wisdom.

The soul nursing from its Source. The process of weaning through which a person learns to be independent.

God's continuous bestowal of lovingkindness and the weaning of the tzimtzum. The obligation to emulate God by giving to others.

Much much more at:

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