Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

The Arabic in Everyday English

Below is a list of everyday, non-specialized words in the English language that are of Arabic origin. They can be put into three categories: 1) words that refer to plants, crops, or foods that originate in the Middle East, South Asia, or Africa and were introduced to Europe by Arabic speaking peoples, such as “sugar,” “candy,” or “alfalfa”; 2) words that refer to inventions or discoveries of Arab civilization, such as “alcohol”; 3) scientific and mathematical words, such as “alchemy” (which simply means chemistry, by the way).

This list comes from “al-bab.com” with the reference given below. It is not the longest I’ve seen, and I verified most of the words on it years ago. Dictionary.com is a handy for general English etymologies.

If this topic interests you, see “Allahs Sonne über dem Abendland,” in French translation “Le Soleil d’Allah Brille Sur L’Occident.”

admiral
adobe
alchemy
alcohol
alcove
alembic
alfalfa
algebra
algorithm
alkali
almanac
amalgam
aniline
apricot
arsenal
arsenic
artichoke
assassin
aubergine
azure

bedouin
benzine(?)
Betelgeuse
bint
borax

cable
calabash
calibre
caliph
camel
camise
camphor
candy
cane
cannabis
carafe
carat
caraway
carmine
carob
casbah
check
checkmate
cinnabar
cipher
coffee
copt
cotton
crimson
crocus
cumin

damask
dhow
dragoman
elixir
emir
fakir
fellah

garble
gauze
gazelle
ghoul
Gibraltar
giraffe
grab
guitar
gypsum

halva
harem
hashish
hazard
henna
hookah
imam
influenza

jar
jasmine
jerboa
jessamine
jinn
kafir
khamsin
khan
kismet
kohl

lacquer
lake
lemon
lilac
lime
lute

magazine
mahdi
marabout
marzipan
massacre
massage
mastaba
mate
mattress
mecca
minaret
mizzen
mocha
mohair
monsoon
mosque
muezzin
mufti
mullah
mummy
muslim
muslin
myrrh

nabob
nacre
nadir
orange
ottoman
popinjay

racket
safari
saffron
saloop
sash
scallion
senna
sequin
serif
sesame
shackle
sheikh
sherbet
shrub
sirocco
sofa
spinach
sudd
sufi
sugar
sultan
sultana
syrup

tabby
talc
talisman
tamarind
tambourine
tarboosh
tare
tariff
tarragon
Trafalgar
typhoon

vega
vizier
wadi
zenith
zero

See: W Montgomery Watt: The Influence of Medieval Islam on Europe (Edinburgh University Press, 1982)

I would add these important ones:

azimuth
cornea (eye)
mascara
rice

The “x” in mathematics comes from the Spanish transliteration of the Arabic “š” at the beginning of “shay'” meaning “something” or unknown. See this The Meaning of X TED talk.

This graphic illustrates the paths some of the above words took.

2015/01/img_0329.png

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4 comments on “The Arabic in Everyday English

  1. Pingback: The Arabic in Everyday English | language | Sco...

  2. Kieran Kelly
    2014-01-20

    Not “barbarian”. It comes into English from Greek through Latin (“barbar” was the Greek characterisation of the gibberish of non-Greek speakers).

    • AhmedRTeleb
      2014-01-20

      You’re probably right and the book “Allahs Sonne im Abendland” does exaggerate here and there. It’s usually easy to check these by a quick etymology lookup, in OED for English, Robert for French.

  3. Pingback: A European Europe? | Fila Sophia

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