Adonis Diaries

At least 13 obvious Arabic words in US language

Posted on: March 13, 2017

 

Arabic is one of the five most spoken languages in the world, with some 400 million users.

It’s also one of the most ancient, varied and beautifully scripted languages in existence.

Its influence on Spanish since the time of the Moors is well known, but what’s less well known is how many commonly used English words were actually taken from Arabic.

Here are just thirteen.


1. Alcohol

One of the most important words in the English language actually comes from the Arabic al-kuhl, (the kohl) which is a form of eyeliner.

Because the cosmetic was made via an extraction process from a mineral, European chemists began to refer to anything involving extraction / distillation as alcohol.

And that’s how the “alcohol of wine” (i.e. the spirit you get from distilling wine) got its name.

2. Algebra

From the Arabic al-jabr, which describes a reunion of broken parts, the use of the term came from a 9th century Arabic treatise on math.

The author’s name was al-Khwarizmi, which became the mathematical term algorithm. (Softwares are mostly algorithms)

3. Artichoke

The classical Arabic word, al-harshafa, became al-karshufa in Arabic-speaking Spain.

It has been adopted into French as artichaut, Italian as carciofo, Spanish as alcachofa, and English as artichoke.

4. Candy

Qand refers to crystallised juice of sugar cane, which is where Americans derive their word candy.

It originally came from Sanksrit, and was adopted into Arabic via the Persian language.

5. Coffee

Arabia originally got coffee from eastern Africa and called it qahwah.

Then it went to Turkey – kahve.

Then the Italians – caffè. 

And finally, it arrived in Britain as coffee.

6. Cotton

This plant is originally native to India and Central/South America,

7. Magazine

This word is derived from the Arabic makzin, which means storehouse.

We got it from the French (magasin, meaning shop), who got it from the Italians (magazzino), who got it from the Arabic.

8. Mattress

Sleeping on cushions was actually an Arabic invention.

Were it not for Arabic matrah, a place where the cushions were thrown down, the Europeans would never have adopted materacium / materatium (Latin) which passed through Italian into English as mattress.

9. Orange

Originally from South and East Asia, oranges were known in Sanskrit as naranga.

This became the Persian narang, which became the Arabic naranj.

Arabic traders brought oranges to Spain, which led to the Spanish naranja.

Then it went into old French as un norenge, then new French as une orenge.

Then we took it from the French and it became orange.

10. Safari

Safari is the Swahili word for an expedition, which is how it has become so associated with African bush and game tourism.

However, that Swahili word came from the Arabic safar, which means journey.

11. Sofa

The Arabic word suffa referred to a raised, carpeted platform on which people sat.

The word passed through the Turkish language to join English as sofa.

12. Sugar

Arabic traders brought sugar to Western Europe, calling it sukkar (originally from teh Sanskrit sharkara).

And last but not least…

13. Zero

Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced the concept of zero to the Europeans in the 13th century.

He grew up in North Africa, and learned the Arabic word sifr, which means empty or nothing.

He Latinised it to zephrum, which became the Italian zero.

Because Roman numerals couldn’t express zero, he borrowed the number from Arabic.

Now, all our digits are known as Arabic numerals. 

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