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From Candy to Serendipity; Arabic words in the English language

A selection of interesting and unexpected English words derived from Arabic

Source : Al Arabiya / 27 Mar 2013

The English language has absorbed all manner of Arabic words over the centuries. Surprising entries include the word ‘jar,’ and ‘serendipity,’ adapted from the Arabic language and now used with no reference to their Middle Eastern origin.

A selection of interesting and unexpected English words, derived from Arabic, highlight the historical relationship between the two cultures.

The word Assassin, for example, comes from the Arabic ‘al-Hashashoon’ meaning hashish eater. The word refers back to the Crusades in the 1200’s during which the leader of Northern Persia would send armed men on targeted killing missions while intoxicated with the drug.

Ghoul, a particularly frightening ghost, is also derived from Arabic according to Gulf News on Tuesday.

The word first appeared in Europe in 1712 in a French translation of the epic 1001 Arabian Nights.

Serendipityfinds its root in Serendip, the Arabic denomination for Sri Lanka which is in turn derived from the Sanskrit name for the country; Suvarnadweep. The word was first introduced by English writer Horace Walpole in 1754 in his fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip.

Surprisingly, a word as common as Jar is also derived from Arabic. Jarra is the term used for a large earthenware container made of pottery. The first recorded use of the word in English was made in reference to olive oil containers in the 1400’s.

The word Algorithm was thought up by famous Arab mathematician Mohammad Musaal- Khwarizmi, who worked in Baghdad in the 800’s. It filtered into Medieval Latin before entering the English language.

The Arabic Qand turned into the English for Candy, a general word for a sweet treat. The Arabic form was used to denote a crystallized mass of sugar and was initially derived from Persian, which in turn was rooted in Sanskrit as sugar cane was grown in India.

A Tabby catis a striped feline with brindled fur, it is not widely known that the word is an adaptation of its original meaning used to describe watered silk fabric. The English language took the word from the Arabic Attabi for silk, which in turn came from Attabiyah, a quarter of Baghdad where the silk was made.


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