Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Top 10 English Words Derived From Arabic

Top 10 English Words Derived From Arabic:

This is a list of English words whose origins can be traced back to Arabic. Some will be immediately recognizable, as they refer to phenomena and concepts directly associated with the Middle East. Other words will be so familiar in their contemporary sense that you may be surprised to find that they came to English from such a distant language. While some of the words in this list have more or less direct transfer from the source language to the target, others took a more circuitous route, arriving in various permutations after passing through third languages such as Spanish, Persian and Turkish. To the best of my knowledge the information here is correct, however I’d appreciate any insight and/or corrections.
A brief note on Arabic: the Arabic language is based on a trilateral root system, in which (most) words can be broken down into a three letter base. This root takes the form of the third person singular past tense. For this reason you will see these roots rendered in English as “he (performed action)”.


Jihad – جهاد

We begin the list with one of the terms most known to western audiences, as well as one the most semantically debated and controversial. The origin of the word is جهد (ja-ha-da) meaning “he made an effort.” In the religious context this type of effort can run the gamut from helping your neighbor, achieving an inner Zen-like devotion to God and, yes, violent struggle in defense of the faith. Due to Arabic’s position as the liturgical language of Islam we will see that many words which have transferred solely to other languages in a religious context can have a more mundane, day-to-day meaning in the original Arabic. For example, the word جهود (jahood), from the same root as ‘jihad” simply means “efforts” and is not necessarily religious in tone.


You may be able to discern that مجهدين (mujahedeen) comes from the same root as the previous entry. A mujahid is someone who takes up arms in defense of the faith. The label was applied to Afghan warriors resisting the Soviet occupation of their country. It generally was viewed in a positive light during the 1980s when the West, especially the US, was supporting these fighters against the communist enemy. Since that time, however, the term mujahedeen has since fallen into ill repute, largely due to the actions of Islamist fighters who battled in Afghanistan and then spread to the corner’s of the earth committing acts of terror in the name of their faith.


Not all words deal with fiery topics like religious zeal. Ream refers to a bundle of paper consisting of 480, 500, or 516 sheets. The original Arabic word is رزمة, which means package or bundle.

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