Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ever Wondered Which English Words Derived from Arabic?

What do zero, a giraffe, and alcohol have in common? Not much, other than all these words originate from Arabic, and are part of the huge heritage of language and knowledge that Europe has absorbed from the Arabs over the centuries.

    Ebony is a dark brown wood that’s long been cherished for its decorative purposes. While the tree native to Sri Lank and southern india, the word entered English from Spanish word abenuz which derives from arab influences in the Iberian Peninsula. the arabic name of the wood is abanus.
  • LIME
    Because of their habit in eating limes to prevent scurvy during long sea voyages of the 18th Century, the British were commonly called ‘limeys’. But lime itself derives from the Arabic lumi meaning any tree in the citrus family that bears fruit.
    As an element used in cleaning agents, borax was highly valued by those who dabbled in the sciences of medicine and chemistry in the 18th Century. It was also used in metal crafting and furnaces. Its application was adopted from Arab chemists who were familiar with the Arabic buraq salts.
    The oil of the Sandalwood tree is commonly used for traditional medicines and the wood is deep in yellow colour. It also offers a heavy wood scent favoured in the making of perfumes. The name of the tree derives from the Arabic sandal and imported from the Western Ghats of India.
  • GALA
    In today’s English, gala means a glittering affair where the guests appear in their best clothes to honour a person or cause. The English derives from the Spanish word gala, meaning fine clothing worn on special occasions. But the word gala is a derivation of the Arabic word khila, an honorary vestment or a fine garment given as a presentation.
    For French gentlemen in the 16th Century, mohair clothing was considered both fashionable and desirable. Its first recorded use in English is in around 1570, referring to finely tailored suits of goat hair. It’s a derivation of the Arabic word al mokhayyar meaning chosen.
  • TARE
    In transport terms, tare refers to the empty weight of a commercial vehicle or the weight of an empty container used for shipping. The word derives from the Spanish, tara, itself introduced into the Iberian peninsula from the Arabic al taraha, something which is thrown away, the root word of which is tarah, to throw.
    A minaret is a tall slender tower, most usually attached to a mosque, where a mu’thin calls Muslims to prayer. it entered English through the Iberian Peninsula and derives from the Arabic manar, meaning a lighthouse, or a tower that holds fire, with nar being the Arabic word for fire.
    Genie refers to a magical spirit that, in common culture, resides in a bottle and has the power to grant wishes when freed. it entered English folklore through tales of travelers to the Mideast in the 17th Century, deriving from the arabic word jinni.
    Mizzen is a second mast behind a ship’s main mast. Some dictionaries claim it is from Latin medianus meaning median, but it is more likely that it comes via Italian from the Arabic mizan meaning balance since the mizzen is a sail that balances.
    An almanac is an annual calendar based on astrological movements and a record of times past, often used by farmers and seafarers in relation to planting of crops and maritime conditions respectively. It derives from the Arabic word al-manakh, referring to climate-related activities.
    The herb tarragon is closely associated with the flavours of Meditteranean cuisine, most usually along the coastlines of Spain and France. It derives from the Arabic word tarkhun, referring to the plant.
    This form of decorative body art is most commonly applied to the hands. It first appears in English in the 15th and early 16th Centuries as traders came in contact with the practice during their travels. alkanet is a reddish dye made from the roots of the alcanna plant meaning both "alkanet" and "henna", from arabic al hinna.
  • SODA
    Soda first appears in Italian and then English languages in the 11th Century in reference to the saltwort plant which is burnt to make soda ash, a component of glass manufacturing. it derives from the arabic suwwaad or suwayda.
    Long has Hollywood made use of mummies to scare intrepid explorers as they travelled through Egypt and the Middle East. But the word itself refers to the arabic mumiya, meaning both a bitumenlike substance used in embalming, and the process itself. in Western usage, it’s regard as the drying out of remains.
    One of the formative books in medieval learning was the Canon of Medicine, comiled in five volumes and completed in 1025 as Al Qanun by Ibn Sina. The English word Canon – meaning set of rules or laws, directly derives from the arabic Al Qanun– law or principles.
    To inspect and remove refuse from spice, which comes from the Arabic gharbala, to sieve or sift; which in turn may have come from the Lation cribellare which means to sieve.
    Arrakis is the old name for a star in the constellation Draco now called Mu Draconis. The name comes from the Arabic al raqis, meaning "the dancer". Frank Herbert adopted the name for the site for his famous Dune science fiction series.
    Algol is a large star in the constellation Perseus. the name comes from the arabic ras al ghul, meaning head (ras) of the demon (ghul) as the Greek hero Perseus killed the monster Medusa and the star is the eye of Medusa's head.
    Guadalquivir is Spain’s second longest river, whose name is derived from arabic al wadi al kabir meaning “the Big Valley". the river was the site of the Battle of Baylen when Wellington’s Spanish allies defeated napoleon’s French.
    Algarve is a region in southern Portugal where millions go to holiday or retire. its position on the far west of the medieval Muslim on the atlantic coast explains its root, since it comes from al gharb, arabic for the West.
    Racket is the strung bat with which you play tennis or squash, but the game called rackets is played with only a glove and you hit the ball with the palm of your hand, which is the origin of the word since raha is arabic for palm.
  • EL CID
    EL CID
    El Cid is the nickname of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043-1099), the national hero of Spain. He was a notable leader in battle who helped expand the Christian territories against the Muslims. His nickname El Cid came from El Sayyid, Arabic for the Lord, although the Spaniards called him El Campeador (the Champion).
  • DRUB
    Drub is to hit or beat something, and comes directly from the arabic darabto hit or strike something. it seems to have come into English in the 1600s with a reference to the punishment of bastinado, canning the soles of someone’s feet.
    Tarboush is the upright red hat worn by all Syrian and Egyptian gentlemen in the 1800s and early 1900s. However, this Arabic word of the Ottoman era has common roots with the word sarpush, derived from the Persian sar (head) and push (cover).
    Tariff is the duty payable, or a bill of fare. It comes from the Italian tariffa, which in turn comes from the Arabic ta’rifa from arraf, to notify. The Arabic word was used in late medieval times for an inventory on a merchant ship.
    Alidade is a modern surveyor's sighting device or pointer for determining directions or measuring angles. The word came into medieval Lation in the late 1400s from the Arabic al idada, which means an upper arm, but also means a pivoting arm.
    Attar is a fragrant essential oil normally made from roses. The word entered English word from India in the late 1700s but originally it came from the Arabic word itr, which means perfume or aroma.
    The plant is widespread throughout fertile areas of south east Asia. For millennia it has been used in the preparation of salads or as a feed source for cattle and goats. The word itself is considered to derive from the Arabic word al fasfasa– a green fodder fed to animals.
    Alhambra is in Grenada, Spain, constructed first in 899 as a fortress and later converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yousef 1, Sultan of Grenada. alhambra derives from the arabic al hamra, meaning “the red” as in the red-colour stones used in its original construction.
    Historically, camise referred to jackets of various kinds. In modern usage a camisole or camise is a loose-fitting sleeveless woman's undergarment which covers the top part of the body. it entered English from old French, inspired by the arabic kameis, meaning shirt.
  • RICE
    First introduced into English in the middle of the 13th century, the word "rice" derives from the old French ris, itself a derivative of the Arabic word roz. In Arab cuisine, rice is an ingredient of many soups and dishes with types of meat.
    Pistachio nuts take their name from the Spanish alfóstigo, which in turn is based on the arabic fustuq which means pistachio. in transmission, the arabic ‘f’ hardened into a ‘p’, and he 'q' softened into a ‘ch’. Fustik is a dye with the same linguistic roots as fustuqi.
    Tabby is a striped cat with a brindled coat. But this common usage of the word tabby comes from its original meaning in the garment industry to describe a watered silk fabric. English took it from attabi for silk which came from Attabiyah, a quarter of Baghdad where the silk was made.
    Sherbet is one of three words that are based on the arabic word, sharab, meaning ‘drink’. Sherbet means a fruit flavoured fizzy drking, Syrup is normally a thickened sweet drink, and Sorbet is a fruit flavoured ice pudding. they came to English direct from Arabic.
    Swahili is a language used on the coast of East africa from Dar E Salam all the way to Somalia. the language is a mix of Bantu and arabic and about one third of its vocabulary is based on arabic. the word Swahili comes from sawahil, meaning coasts, which is the plural of sahil, coast.
    Serendipity comes from Serendip, the Arabic name for Sri Lanka where people are famously happy. It was introduced by Horace Walpole in 1754 in his fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip. The Arabic name was taken from the Sanskrit name for Sri Lanka: Suvarnadweep
    Mufti is used in English to describe casual clothes by people out of uniform. the word came into English via the British army in the 1800s, when off-duty officers wore Eastern style dressing gowns and tasseled caps, which looked like those worn by a mufti, an islamic legal scholar.
    Describes a dry fibrous back-scrubber used in the bath. the word came into English in 1706 as a botanical description of the luffa plant, which produced a large marrow-like fruit with a fibrous skeleton, which was dried. in the 1800s it became the loofah, used by bathers.
  • JAR
    As you dig into your honey jar, it is bizarre to know that such a common English word comes from the Arabic jarra, which means a large earthenware container made of pottery. The first records in English come from 1418 and 1421 for olive oil containers.
  • SASH
    Sash is the strip of cloth worn over one shoulder. it comes from the arabic shash, meaning a ribbon of gauze or textile which was wrapped around a head to form a turban, usually made of muslin. in modern arabic shash means gauze or muslin.
  • REAM
    Ream is a measure of a quantity of sheets of paper. it comes from the arabic rizma, meaning bale or bundle, and the word arrived with the introduction of paper itself from the arab world in the 1100s and 1200s.
    Azure is a brilliant blue, and has the same root as Lazurite, a rock with a bright blue colour. The Arabic word, lazward, covering both the rock and colour came from Lajward, which was the name of the site of a huge deposit in Afghanistan.
    Average comes from the arabic awar, meaning ‘defect or anything damaged’ that was imported into italian in the 1100s as ‘avaria’ which referred to ‘damage or loss during a merchant sea voyage’. in time this moved into French as ‘averie’, and in 1491 was used in English as ‘averay’.
    Algorithm: The word comes directly from the name of the Arab mathematician, Mohammad Musa Al Khwarizmi, who worked in Baghdad in the 800s. It came into Medieval Latin with a much wider meaning before it became algorismus in the 1200s.
    Alkali comes from the Arabic word Al Qali, which was made up of sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate used to make soap and glass. Al Jawhari wrote around 1000 that Al Qali is obtained from glassworts.
    Assassin comes from Arabic word, Al Hashashoon , meaning a hashish eater. This refers back to the Crusades in the 1200s when the leader of the Nizari branch, who ruled northern Persia, would send followers on targeted killing missions with the drug.
    Camel appears to be a direct transliteration of the arabic jamal, pronounced in some arabic dialects with a hard G, which brings it even closer to the English word camel. However, the word first came through the Greek kamelos, and then Latin camelus to English.
    Iodine is a chemical element with a deep purple colour and antiseptic qualities, which draws its name from its arabic name, Youd , although some refer the root back to the Greek word, iodes, which means violet colored.
    Turmeric is a bright yellow aromatic powder widely used in south Asian cooking. it comes from the rhizome of the turmeric plant, known in Arabic as Kurkum from which the English name is derived.
    Rukbah is a star in the 'W' shaped constellation of Cassiopeia, named after the famously beautiful Queen Cassiopeia of classical Greece. the name is originally from arabic rukbah "knee", but this is only one of the famous queen's body parts with an arabic name.
    The coffee tree is native to Sudan and Ethiopia. The word coffee derives from the Turkish word kahve and the Arabic word qahwah, which means any stimulating drink, according to Larousse Gastronomique.
    Fomalhaut also known as Alpha Piscisaustrini, is the brightest star in the fish-shaped constellation Piscis. the name Fom Al Hoot comes from scientific Arabic fam Al Hoot (Al Janubi) "the mouth of the [Southern] Fish"
    This popular dish is indigenous to North Africa and used hard semolina. While recipes and variations occur across the region, depending on the spices and meat available, it derives directly from the Arabic kouskous, according to Larousse Gastronomique.
    Wasat is the traditional name for Delta Geminorum in the zodiac constellation Gemini, made up of the two twins Castor and Pollux. Wasat lies at the centre of Castor, which gives it its arabic name wasat, which means "middle".
    Crimson is a deep red colour that originates from the red that infest the kermes oak, native to the Mediterranean area. It comes from old Spanish cremesin, which is derived from the Arabic qurmuz.
    Deneb is the brightest star in the swan-shaped constellation Cygnus, and is a direct transliteration of dhanab, the Arabic for "tail", from the phrase Dhanab Al Dajaja, or "tail of the hen".
  • ARAK
    Arak is a strong alcoholic with aniseed. according to Larousse Gastronomique, the work is derived from araq, meaning sweat. it is widely consumed across the Middle East, Southern Europe and south East asia.
    Alembic is a copper pot used in distillation, deriving from the arabic al’ inbiq. the traditional alembic is made up of a boiler, a cap where vapours collect, and a bent pipe which is cooled to collect the distillate, according to Larousse Gastronomique.
  • UMMA
    Umma is the entire community of Muslims bound together by the ties of religion, according to the oxford English dictionary. It is a direct use of the Arabic umma, which means people or community.
  • TELL
    Tell is an archeological term that refers to the buildup of settlements, one on top of another. according to the oxford English Dictionary, tell word derives from arabic tal, meaning a small hill.
    Tagine refers to an earthenware cone-shaped cooking pot used almost exclusively in North African cooking. It is derived from the Arabic word tajin or frying pan.
    Altair is the brightest star in the constellation Aquila (Eagle in Latin). the name altair is an abbreviation of the arabic al Nisr Al Ta’ir, the Flying Eagle, which was used in 1650 by the Egyptian astronomer Mohammad al akhsasi.
  • ERG
    Erg is a geographical term used in the Sahara Desert to describe an area of shifting sand. It comes from the Arabic ‘arq, meaning a line of sand dunes. Its basic use in Arabic refers to a blood vein or the root of a plant, and subsequently undulating lines of dunes.
    Alderban is a bright red star in the middle of the zodiac constellation of Taurus. The name aldebaran comes from the arabic al Dabaran, which means the Follower, because this bright star appears to fpllow the constellation of the Pleides, or the Seven Sisters, in the night sky.
    Nadir is the direct opposite of zenith, and is the lowest point of any celestial object’s orbit. It also uses the Arabic for pathway, with al samt, as its root, but in this case it is nazir al samt, meaning the opposite on the pathway.
    Zenith is the highest point in the sky of a celestial object, and comes from the same root as azimuth, Al Samt meaning path, which in this case was known as samt al ras (path over the head) which was adopted into old French as cenit, before becoming zenith in English.
    azimuth is derived from The arabic words zawiyat al samt and is the horizontal part of the direction of a star from the observer, and comes from al samt, meaning path or direction. it is one of many astronomica l terms that came into Medieval Europe from science in the arab world.
    A sweater or pullover derived from a sailor’s loose outer jacket. the word arrived in English via the old French adaptation of the arabic word jubba, meaning a robe that can be worn by either sex, the oxford English dictionary says.
    There are approximately 150 species of gerbil or desert rats, which are native to North Africa, India and Eastern Asia. In Arabic, the rodents are called jarbu. They spread, along with their usage, into the Iberian Peninsula, with jarbu being distorted into gerbil in old French.
    The embroidery form macrame in English has been adopted from both Spanish and French usage describing satin and silks which were heavily embroidered or bejeweled. in arabic, miqrama refers to an embroidered veil and its meaning spread through trade in textiles.
    Sirocco refers to a wind that blows across the north african desert from the east. it’s a Spanish derivative of the word sharqiyyah or eastern in arabic. By the 16th Century, sirocco was adopted from Spanish into English to describe warm easterly winds.
    To early Arab mariners and voyagers, the bird with the largest wingspan was impressive in the manner in which it dove into the Al Ghattas means diver, with Albatross being a derivative, spreading through the seaboards of western Europe.
    Monsoon rains occur in the period between June and September in southeast Asia. Monsoon derives from the Arabic word mawsim meaning season. The word was adopted into English as a result of mid-to-late 18th century English travellers to the Indian subcontinent.
    Alcove derives from the Arabic word A l Qubbah which refers to a vault, as in a vaulted ceiling or dome. Islamic architectural style and engineering was introduced into Andalusia on the Iberian Peninsula before being copied throughout medieval Europe.
    The word mattress derives from the Arabic word matrah, meaning a large cushion or soft rug to lie upon. It came to English use in the 14th Century after spreading from Spain into France at the turn of the 10th Century
    Sumac derives from the Arabic word summaq. Its components have been historically used to spice food, in leather making and the dyeing of cloths and as a traditional herbal medicine for stomach ailments.
    Spinach derives from isfanakh in eastern classical Arabic, later evolving to spanekh in Arabic. It was introduced by Arabs to Spain around 10th century, from where it spread to the rest of Europe.
    Descends from the Arabic word naranj and the tree itself is native to India. Arabs introduced the orange tree to the Mediterranean region in the early 10th century and was brought to Western Europe by returning Crusaders.
    Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family and derives from the Arabic word kammun. It was first introduced to Europe in the 12th and 13th Centuries.
    The origin of the word saffron is derived from the Arabic word zafaraan, meaning ‘yellow’ and has been used as a colouring and spice in foods for at least 3,000 years.
    The English word amber derives from the Arabic anbar, via Medieval Latin ambar and Old French ambre. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry.
    Lemons - laymoon in Arabic - are native to India and China and introduced to Persia, Iraq and Egypt around 700 AD. The lemon was first recorded in literature in 10th century Arabic treatise on farming, and was also used as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens.
    Trafalgar is where Admiral Nelson won the most famous sea battle in British history, off Cape Trafalgar which sticks into the Atlantic from southern Spain. The Arabs called this cape Taraf Al Gharb, the Uttermost West, as it was the most western point of their dominions.
  • WADI
    Wadi is Arabic for valley. However, it has been in common parlance for centuries via Spanish, and perhaps most famously as the site of some of Wellington’s toughest fighting against Napoleonic forces near the Portuguese river Guadalquivir, the wadi Al Kabir.
    Sugar - Sukkar in Arabic - was a rare and special commodity in medieval Europe which used honey as a sweetener, which makes it a treat. The first recorded uses of sugar in English was at a monastery in Durham in 1302 when a monk recorded the storage of zuker marok, or Moroccan sugar.
    Artichoke is the Arabic Kharshoof, which was borrowed by the Spanish in 1423 as carchiofa and by the Italians in 1525 as carciofo, before changing to the French artichault in 1538 and the English artochock in 1591.
    Apricot comes from the Arabic barqooq, which in turn came from Byzantine Greek, which took it from classical Latin praecoqua, meaning precocious ripening peaches. The Arabs passed the word (and fruit) to the Portuguese (albricoque) and Catalan (albercoc), before it finally arrived in English in 1578 as abrecox.
    Alcohol comes from Kohl, finely powdered stibnite used as eye make up. The word entered Latin in the 1200s meaning well ground material, and in later medieval alchemy it moved to define any purified material or ‘quintessence; from which it was a short lexicographical step to 'alcohol.'
    Muslin is a lightweight cotton cloth in a plain weave that came from Mosul in Iraq, where it was first manufactured. The city gave its name to the cloth which the Italians called mussoline, and the French mousseline.
    Cotton comes from the Arabic qutn, which came to the Arab world from India after Alexander the Great opened up the markets in 300 BC. When the medieval Arabs traded cotton into Europe, it was so soft it was assumed that it must be an animal product like wool.
    Parrot finds its origins in the Arabic babbagha, which arrived in Old French in the 1100s as papegai, as the ‘B’ in babbagha swapped to become ‘P’ as frequently happens (like in other Arabic origin words like apricot, calipers, julep, and syrup).
    Harem is a direct transliteration of the Arabic hareem, meaning women’s quarters in a large household, although the root is the Arabic haram meaning forbidden which indicated the fact that men were not allowed into the women’s area.
    Carat is a unit of weight for precious stones, and may well come from the Arabic world qirat, defined as the weight of one twenth-fourth of a medieval Arab gold dinar, or the weight of four barley seeds. But the Arabic word seems to have its origin in the Greek keration which may also be an origin for the English carat.
    Safari is a Kiswahili word to describe a trip into the wilds of Africa to watch (or hunt) animals, which started in the 1800s in Kenya. The Swahili took the word directly from the Arabic safra, to travel, and is one of many Arabic words used in East Africa.
    Ghoul is a terrible ghost, which comes from the Arabic ghool, and first appeared in Europe in 1712 in a French translation of the Arabian Nights. By the 1800s ghouls were frequently popping up in English translations of Arabian Nights, and became part of the language.
    Candy is a general word for any sweet, but it only arrived in English in 1600s, from the Arabic qand, meaning a hard crystalised mass of sugar, which in turn came from Persian, and in its turn from Sanskrit since cane sugar was developed in India.
    Gibraltar is an Arabic name, Jabal Tariq, meaning Mountain of Tariq, after the famous Omayyad general, Tariq Bin Ziad, who led the first Islamic conquest of Spain in 711. Until the Arabs got there, Gibraltar was known as Mons Calpe, one the Pillars of Hercules
    Magazine is a military store, and it comes from the Arabic makhazin, based on khazan (meaning to store) with the ma- prefix indicating a noun of place. It was first recorded in Marseilles in 1228 as a general store house, but English has always used it as a military store for gunpowder or bullets.
    Shufti: “Take a shufti” is how thousands of English soldiers described ‘taking a look’ when they were posted to Second World War Cairo or later in South Yemen in the 1950s and 1960s, taking the word back to Britain with them. It is derived from the Arabic word shofti.
  • LUTE
    Lute is a direct transliteration of Oud, which is the Arabic for the same instrument. Musicians might argue about how many strings are appropriate, but Spain had its alod in the 1200s, and the first definite English reference was by the late 1300s.
    Started with Al Kimya'a, meaning alchemy, which is how it arrived in Europe in a book by Plato Tiburtinus, after which the medieval skills of alchemy gave way to the modern disciplines of chemistry.
    Arsenal is based on Dar Al Sina’a, the House of Manufacturing, and was first used in English in the Fifteenth Century, when it described a dock-yard for repairing ships, which meaning is still used by the Italians with the fuller word darsana.
    Algebra comes from Al Jabr, meaning to restore broken parts. Its mathematical meaning started with the definitive tome, Al-kitāb al-mukhta’ar fī’isāb al-jabr wa al-muqābala, by the 9th century mathematician Al Khawarizmi.
    Giraffe - was known to the Arabic lexicographer, Jawahiri, as Al Zarafa, which he rather briefly dismissed as “a type of creature’. Later biologists linked the name more firmly to the long-necked beast of Africa which we all know today.
    Admiral - comes from the Arabic word Amir Al Bihar, meaning Commander of the Seas, which was a first title used in Norman Sicily. The ‘D’ was added in Elizabethan England, by court officials ignorant of Arabic. The French still use amiral.


  1. I think the word "alcohol" is not related to the arabic word "kohl" but comes from another arabic word "ghawal" meaning intoxication or drunkenness

    1. Thank you Ahmed that makes a lot of sense.


Always great to hear from you :O)