When I was researching brobdingnagian, the previous Word of the Day, I also looked up its synonyms and found plethora of adjectives that would make perfect candidates for the next Word of the Day. Amongst the few words that caught my eyes – and made it on my Word of the Day candidates list – this one has an especially rich history. It dates back to a time when monsters and mythical creatures were still thought to roam the earth and exerted a strange mix of fear and fascination over the minds of our ancestors. Let me introduce you to the captivating story of the word – drum rolls – behemotian.
The origins of this word are not clearly established but most linguists agree on the idea that this word comes either from the Arabic ʼabham (“animal”) through the Hebrew בהמה (bəhēmāh, “beast”) or from the Egyptian p-ehe-mau (“hippopotamus”, which literally means “water-ox”). It is important to note that both origins have in common that they refer to an animal of great size.
However, the word behemothian was mainly brought to fame thanks to its appearance in the Bible; indeed the behemoth, along with the leviathan, are two of the great and mighty beasts God shows Job in the book of Job:
“Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.
Behold, his strength is in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly.
He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron.”
(Job 40:15-18 RSV)
“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak to you soft words?
Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant for ever?
Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on leash for your maidens?
Will traders bargain over him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?”
(Job 41:1-6 RSV)
Two adjectives were derived from the noun behemoth: behemothic and behemothian. Behemotic is defined as something colossal, of enormous size and power. The meaning of behemothian can be more figurative: it refers to something huge, daunting or greatly important.
Amongst the synonyms of behemothian also inspired by animal or mythical creatures you can find: mammoth, elephantine, elephantic, mastodonic, titanic (nothing to do with the sunken boat, it comes from the Titans), colossal and leviathan – look out for these beautiful words in our next Word of the Day.