Camels vs. dromedaries?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Apr 3 14:05:15 UTC 2008

In the early 19th century, might people have used
the word "camel" to refer to one species (I am
guessing to the Bactrian) and "dromedary" to
refer to the other species (the Arabian)?

The OED merely asserts that " a lighter and
fleeter variety of the [Arabian] is known as the Dromedary."

Or perhaps the distinction was made only in Salem, Massachusetts.

In James Felt's _Annals of Salem_ (2nd ed., 1845
& 1849), he describes several collections of
animals exhibited there in 1834.  Of one he
writes "In the collection were 
 camels;" of
another later in the year his complete
description is "There is a similar exhibition
here. Of the animals were two dromedaries."

In _The House of the Seven Gables_ (1851),
Hepzibah's first, and a steady, customer at her
cent-shop is a young schoolboy who is fond of
gingerbread animals.  On one visit, Hawthorne
writes, he "now proposed to eat a camel."  The
next day he "had signalized his omnivorous
prowess by swallowing two dromedaries and a
locomotive."  The day after that, when he
reappears on an errand for his mother, Hawthorne
reminds us who he is by writing "the little
devourer ... of Jim Crow, the elephant, the
camel, the dromedaries, and the locomotive."

So these two writers were making some
distinction.  Was it the number of humps?  Or the
slimmer outline of the fleet dromedary (seen in
the profiles of a parade or a gingerbread treat)?


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