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[bih-hee-muh th, bee-uh-] /bɪˈhi məθ, ˈbi ə-/
an animal, perhaps the hippopotamus, mentioned in Job 40:15–24.
any creature or thing of monstrous size or power: The army's new tank is a behemoth.
The cartel is a behemoth that small business owners fear.
Origin of behemoth
1350-1400; < Hebrew bəhēmōth, an augmentative plural of bəhēmāh beast; replacing Middle English bemoth
Word story
The original behemoth is found in the Bible. Job 40:15-24 describes a land-dwelling beast having mythic proportions (a tail like a cedar tree) and supernatural characteristics (bones like bars of brass and iron). The Hebrew word that is used (bəhēmōth) is the augmentative plural form of the word for “beast” or “animal.” Normally, bəhēmōth would translate as the plural noun “beasts,” but as it is used to describe a singular being, the interpretation is that of a mighty or monstrous animal.
Much folklore has arisen around behemoth. One story has it that behemoth, separated from its aquatic counterpart leviathan at the dawn of creation, will be reunited with it in an epic battle on Judgment Day in which each will slay the other. Following this biblical King Kong vs. Godzilla match, both animals will be served up as a feast for the remaining faithful.
Behemoth makes an appearance in such classics of literature as John Milton's Paradise Lost, Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, and James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Today we use it to apply to anything large, powerful, and often unwieldy.
Related Quotations
“Whom the Hebrues call Bemoth that doth in latin playne expresse / A beast rude full of cursednesse.“
—John Lydgate, Troy Book, II. xvii (1430)
“Behemoth, biggest born of earth.“
—John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)
“[T]he unwieldy behemoths of the old economy are falling over each other to reinvent their identities.“
—Oliver Burkeman, “If the name fits…“ Guardian (January 8, 2001) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for behemoth
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Some way into the forest, the ground sprang up into mountains that were as fierce and behemoth as the trees that clothed them.

    The Revolutions of Time Jonathan Dunn
  • While the planet bombs dropped, the behemoth began to rise again.

    Victory Lester del Rey
  • There was nothing in the world for behemoth to do but wildly leap under the hoofs for his life.

    Queed Henry Sydnor Harrison
  • Hath he no the smooth face o' a bairn and the thews' o' behemoth?'

    Micah Clarke Arthur Conan Doyle
  • behemoth are cattle or brutes which live on hay and herbs growing from the earth; as sheep, cows, deer and roe.

British Dictionary definitions for behemoth


(Old Testament) a gigantic beast, probably a hippopotamus, described in Job 40:15
a huge or monstrous person or thing
Word Origin
C14: from Hebrew běhēmōth, plural of běhēmāh beast
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for behemoth

late 14c., huge biblical beast (Job xl:15), from Latin behemoth, from Hebrew b'hemoth, usually taken as plural of intensity of b'hemah "beast." But the Hebrew word is perhaps a folk etymology of Egyptian pehemau, literally "water-ox," the name for the hippopotamus.

Long before Jumbo was dreamed of, a hippo was exhibited by George K. Bailey, who invented the tank on wheels now used so generally in the circuses. The beast was advertised as "the blood sweating Behemoth of Holy Writ," and he made several men rich. [Isaac F. Marcosson, "Sawdust and Gold Dust," in "The Bookman," June 1910]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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