Speaking English Like An Arab

Over centuries, dozens of Arabic words have entered the English language, through science, philosophy, mathematics, food, fabrics, trade and travel.

Most were introduced by inland and maritime trade along the Silk Route, while others came through the Islamic conquests of southern Europe. Not all of these words are of Arabic origin – some came from India, Persia and ancient Greece – but Arab merchants helped export them to the West.

Finally, the discovery of medieval Islamic scientists and astronomers during the Renaissance brought new words and concepts to Europe.  I have picked the top 15 most surprising words with Arabic origins.

Admiral: amir أمير

The word for this high-ranking naval commander evolved from amir, the Arabic word for a prince or ruler. The word was first documented on the island of Sicily in the 11th century, where the Arabs had ruled for 300 years.

Alchemy: al kimiya الكيمياء

The ancient branch of philosophy known as alchemy involved the study of substances and materials. Medieval alchemists believed that some liquids could be turned to gold, or a potion that would make its drinker immortal. The original Arabic word stems from the Greek term “khemeia, though some scholars also trace its roots back to ancient Egypt.

Cotton: qutun قطن

Though cotton was known to the ancient Romans, the word and the fabric were imported by Arab merchants to Europe in the late Middle Ages.

Elixir: al-iksir الإكسير

Today, an elixir is a liquid remedy with healing powers. In Arabic, it originally referred to a dry powder for treating wounds. It was later adopted by alchemists who referred to an elixir as the elusive mineral powder that would turn metals into gold.

Jumper: jubba جبّة

The Arabic word for overcoat originally entered European languages as “juppa“, valuable silk clothing, in southern Italy in the 11th century.

Macrame: miqrama مقرمة

This type of knotted textile used in craft and high fashion originates from the hand-loomed fabrics of Arabic weavers. In Arabic, miqrama refers to an embroidered tapestry or bedspread.

Mohair: al-mokhayyar المخيّر

In Arabic, al-mokhayyar was a high-quality cloth made of fine goat hair. Various forms of it were imported to the West for centuries, the most famous being the wool made from Angora goats of Turkey.

Monsoon: mawsim موسم

Early Arab sea merchants on the Indian Ocean rim used the word “mawsim” or “seasons” to refer to the seasonal sailing winds. Later, the word was adopted by Portuguese, Dutch and English sailors as they navigated extreme weather conditions off the coasts of India, South-East Asia and China.

Muslin: musuliyin موصلي

Muslin, a cotton-based fabric, is said to have derived its name from the traders of the city of Mosul, or the musuliyin, who imported it from South Asia to Europe.

Nadir: nazir نظير

In English, a nadir refers to the worst moment, or the point at which something is of the least value. But in Arabic, the word means a counterpart, and was used in medieval Islamic astronomy to refer to the diametrically opposing points of a celestial sphere.

Orange: naranj نارنج

Though both the fruit and the word came from India, Arabs introduced oranges to the Mediterranean region. For many southern European countries today, they are considered a staple fruit.

Serendipity: serendib سرنديب

The ancient fairy tale place of Serendib, which appears in One Thousand and One Nights and other ancient oral traditions, was also the old Arabic name for the island of Sri Lanka. The English word serendipity, meaning a fortunate discovery, was coined by the English author Horace Walpole in 1754.

Safari: safar سفر

The English adopted the Swahili word for journey – safari – in the 19th century for their hunting expeditions in East Africa. Though a safari today involves an organized trip to spot wild animals, its origins are from the Arabic “safar”, or journey, a reminder of the crucial presence of Arab sea merchants on the East African coast.

Sugar: sukkar سكّر

Another word to have travelled the Silk Road is sugar, which was originally produced in India. By the sixth century, sugar cane cultivation reached Persia, and was brought into the Mediterranean by the Arabs, who produced it extensively.

Tariff: ta’riff تعريف

A tariff in Medieval Arabic means a notification. It was introduced to western languages around the 14th century through commerce on the Mediterranean Sea, where it referred to the bill of lading on a merchant ship, or the statement of products and prices for sale.

I Am Crabby

What better treat to sweeten up a Grumpy Old Dude like me, than some lovely Crab-Apple jelly?

As an occasional treat, on nights that I post a blog, I have come to like a couple of Costco croissants, warmed in the toaster-oven, with crab-apple jelly and a mug of hot chocolate.

Several times in the course of our marriage, I have helped the wife make a batch of crab-apple jelly.  She initiates it, organises it, and gives directions, while I do most of the donkey-work, since I am so admirably qualified.  With a little luck, and some greed, I often get all or most of a batch.  It’s okay.  The wife prefers strawberry or red currant.  With some self-control and rationing, a batch lasts me several years

Crab-apple jelly is almost impossible to find in a grocery store, and when you do, it’s three or four times as expensive, because of shortage of crab-apples, and extra labor.  Near where the daughter once lived was a Mennonite church.  On the boulevard of the side street, they had planted four crab-apple trees.  At harvest time I just went over and picked enough.  A couple of years later I returned, to find that the city had widened the street, and destroyed the trees.

The home the daughter moved to, backs onto a community trail.  A block away, one house whose property also edged the trail, didn’t have a back fence – but they did have a crab-apple tree.  The owner graciously allowed me to harvest all I wanted – because then, he didn’t have to pick them all up.  A couple of years later I returned…. to find that the Region had widened and paved the trail, and removed the tree.

An occasional Mennonite at the Farmers’ Market MIGHT have a few six-quart baskets of crab-apples, if you get there at the right time, (I only had four baskets, and I sold the last one an hour ago.) but I might as well be paying for black truffles.  Two women offer jams and jellies of many flavors.  The wife bought a jar of red currant – which included some of the little twigs that the currants grow on.  I passed on their apple jelly.

Another man also offered a wide variety, including crab-apple jelly – at a merely outrageous price.  Real crab-apple jelly should be so clear, that you could read a newspaper through its red/gold beauty.  This stuff was more apple sludge, full of unfiltered apple fiber.

This is the cost of old age – having to live in the big city, close to all the medical support.  I’ll bet if I lived in my small home-town, I’d know someone with a crab-apple tree or two.  How about you??  Do you have a particular treat that you like?  Is it readily available?

***

Chapter 2

Almost 20 years ago, when we first moved in, at the back of my property were a spruce tree, and a lilac bush, for added privacy and noise attenuation.  Back then they were barely as tall as the six-foot sound-berm.  Now they both tower 15/20 feet.

This summer, I was mowing the lawn, and stopped to catch my breath and look at the lilac…. and I lost my breath again.  There were crab-apples growing on my lilacWTF!!  Close inspection (the lawn can wait) showed that two of the lilac’s trunks (?) were actually a crab-apple tree.  This is the first year that it has produced fruit, so I’d never previously noticed that the two were intertwined.

How did it get there??  A squirrel burying an apple??  Some idiot in the neighborhood puts out peanuts for them.  We find peanuts buried in our planters and flower beds – along with dead flowers from the digging.

I’ll be discussing Theology with Saint Peter before this tree matures.  There are only half a dozen bunches of apples this year.  I couldn’t get six quarts/liters.  I will do well to get six cups this fall, but the wife says that she/we can make a mini-batch of one or two jars for me.  I’ll still be grumpy – just better fed.  😀  😎

Flash Fiction #249

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

RELATIVE RELATIVES

Hi Daddy!  When are ya comin’ home??

My business deal’s almost finished.  I’ll be home on Friday.  Anything interesting happen?

The roses died.

Oh…. why?

The heat from the fire.

Fire??!  What fire?

When the garage burned.

The garage burned!!? How?

The firemen said that it was sparks from the house that set it on fire.

The house was on fire!??  What happened?

Mommy says that it happened when the furnace exploded.

Furnace exploded!??  Was anybody injured?

No Daddy, but we’re gonna hafta get some new roses when we get out of this motel.

MOTEL!!??

Here’s Mommy.  She can ‘splain.  😳

***

Aah – the innocence of childhood.  Everybody’s got their own priorities.  Daddy’s may be home-owners’ insurance.

***

Go to Rochelle’s Addicted to Purple site and use her Wednesday photo as a prompt to write a complete 100 word story.

One-Liners Are A Rip-off

Velcro

The guy who invented Velcro died….
….R.I.P.

Iron Man is actually….
….Fe Male

I used to sell security alarms door to door, and I was very good at it….
….If no-one was home, I’d just leave the brochure on the kitchen table

The early bird may get the worm….
….but the second mouse gets the cheese

How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?….
….Hourly, or flat fee?

What did the ocean say to the beach?….
….Nothing, it just waved

When the smog lifts in California….
….UCLA

My wife was angry at me, and said I have no sense of direction….
….so I picked up my stuff and right

I am terrified of elevators….
….and I’m taking steps to avoid them

Every time I try to eat healthy….
….a chocolate bar looks at me and Snickers

Double negatives….
….are a no-no in English

The problem with political jokes is….
….sometimes they get elected

I danced like nobody was watching….
….My court date is pending

What happens if….
….you get scared half to death – twice?

Ants are healthy because….
….they have little antibodies

I checked into the hokey-pokey clinic….
….and I turned myself around

All those who believe in psychokinesis….
….raise my hand

Between two evils….
….I always pick the one I’ve never tried

I went to the Air and Space Museum….
….but there was nothing there

A clear conscience is….
….the sign of a fuzzy memory

If you think that education is expensive….
….try ignorance

What if there were no hypothetical questions?

My reality check bounced.

I want to grow my own food….
….but I can’t find any bacon seeds

They’re not going to make yardsticks any longer

I told my wife she was drawing in her eyebrows too high….
….She looked surprised

Flash Fiction #64

Pool

PHOTO PROMPT – © Jennifer Pendergast

IN THE SWIM

His engineering consulting firm had finally taken off. The obvious benefits included some nice income. He had been able to purchase a small estate property beyond the city.

One of the drawbacks was being away from his home and family, sometimes for weeks. His wife had been pushing for an in-ground pool. “The kids would love it!” He said he’d do some research. She replied that she’d already been checking. What a surprise.

His latest ‘three-week project’ had stretched almost six weeks. When he finally returned home, she dragged him to the rear door. “How do you like our pool?”   😮

***

Go to Rochelle’s Addicted to Purple site and use her Wednesday photo as a prompt to write a complete 100 word story.

***

Twin Towers

Unlike many weeks, I waited till Friday, to post my Friday Fictioneer story. By doing that, this is 9/11! Fourteen years ago today, the Twin Towers fell. The snake is still in the Garden. Remember! Respect! Refuse to capitulate!