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English enriched by centuries of borrowed arabic words (Article)

English enriched by centuries of borrowed arabic words
[By Dr. Mohamed Elmasry]

For 1000 years, Arabic was the primary international language of
commerce, scholarship and politics, much as English is in today’s world.
In fact, over the centuries English adopted many words that were either
borrowed directly from Arabic-speakers, or were absorbed indirectly
through other languages, especially Spanish.

Even today, Arabic still accounts for the greatest number of Eastern
elements in English. The lists of examples that follow are only a brief
sampling of the many more words available; perhaps some will surprise you!

No computer, nuclear plant or microchip design could have been possible
without the words and concepts we know as algorithm, algebra, and zero –
all of which come from Arabic.

The names of many musical instruments -- like lute and guitar – as well
as a number of technical performance terms and styles, are also from
Arabic roots.

Many names of familiar animals, plants, spices, herbs and drinks began
as Arabic nouns: saffron, henna, camphor, cotton, apricot, lemon, lime,
orange, tamarind, lilac, sherry, mango, coffee, artichoke, spinach,
jasmine, ginger, tulip, lotus, shrub, giraffe, gazelle, cobra, zebra,

If you have ever taken a chemistry course, the word chemistry itself
originates with Arabic, as well as nitro, alkali, alcohol, calibre,
antimony, arsenic.

In your household and daily life, you might easily run into Arabic words
that are so common we never give them a second thought: shampoo, sofa,
cable, atlas, magazine, pie, pajama, bungalow, mattress, sack, khaki,
candy, caramel, jar, sherbet, sugar, syrup, cinnamon, ribs, silk,
cheque, chatty, sandal.

And, as you might expect, Arabic is very present in slightly more exotic
or emphatic English words and proper names: tycoon, carat, chess,
checkmate, Sahara, almanac, rum, musk, sesame, tariff, cashmere, mummy,
coral, sapphire, jubilee, jargon, thug, Satan, fake, jungle, alchemy,
zenith, safari, talc, tartar, zircon, chiffon, amber, Bedouin, Ariel.

In military vocabulary, frequently-used terms like hazard, admiral,
arsenal and assassin all owe their use to Arabic.

But reference books devoted to tracing the English words borrowed from
Arabic are rare. Most were written some time ago and do not include
contemporary scholarship or changes in our language. The most recent is
more than three decades old -- Arabic Contributions to the English
Vocabulary, by James Peters and Habeeb Salloum (1973). Two other useful,
but dated, titles are: A History of Foreign Words in English, by Mary S.
Serjeantson (1935) and Arabic Words in English, by Walt Taylor (1933).

Words are much like organic living creatures whose character and
meanings evolve over time and circumstance. Those Arabic words that made
it into English must have had a fascinating history, much of which has
been lost over the centuries. It makes one wonder; Who used the original
Arabic words and what were they like? How did these words first come to
be spoken by non-Arabs? How many variations did they go through before
appearing in English dictionaries? Why are some much easier to trace
back to their Arabic roots than others? Linguists have answered some of
these questions but there is still much more to be known. Here is a
project worthy of far greater attention. Any takers?

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