Printable Version
Pronunciation: bi-hee-mêth Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A Biblical animal of enormous dimensions. 2. A huge, frightful person or thing.

Notes: We have a single offspring of today's Good Word, an adjective, behemothian. This adjective crept into the language at the beginning of the 20th century, then crept out again almost as soon at it arrived. The Oxford English Dictionary claims that it is used mostly in poetry.

In Play: Today's word works well when referring to a large, surly person: "The bouncer at the bar was a behemoth whom I politely obeyed when asked to leave." On the other hand, it may be used to refer to any object of unusually large size, whether surly or not: "The two-volume Oxford English Dictionary is a behemoth with print so small, it comes with a magnifying glass to read the entries."

Word History: Today's Good Word came immediately from the Latin word behemoth taken from the Hebrew b'hemoth, which referred to some kind of huge beast in biblical times (Job 40:15). This word is assumed to be the intensive plural of b'hemah "beast". But the Hebrew word could be a borrowing of Egyptian pehemau "water-ox", which is what the Egyptians called a hippopotamus, similar to the Greek word hippopotomos "river horse". (Today's Good Word was suggested by Rob Towart, he of seemingly behemothian vocabulary.)

Dr. Goodword,

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