Arabic Loanwords In English
The Arabic language has contributed hundreds of words to the English language by many different routes. That’s partly because in what my daughter likes to call the olden days (from around 700AD to the Middle Ages), the Arabic kingdoms had a great influence on Europe and the world. In part this was through colonisation, but there were also many great mathematicians, alchemists and astronomers.
Of course, language development is not that simple. Not all the words that have entered English via Arabic originate from that language. Linguistically speaking, the Arabs borrowed as freely as they lent and their language included words originating from Spanish, Latin, Greek, Persian, Hebrew and many others. Many of the words start with the Arabic definite article ‘al’, which also appears in silent form without the l in words such as admiral. Here’s a list of some of the common words that the Arabic language has bequeathed to English.
- alchemy – via Greek
- alcohol – the quintessence of earthly substances, originally from alchemy
- algebra – restoration of missing parts, later used in a 9th century mathematical book written by a Persian scientist whose name gave us algorithm
- arsenal – factory
- assassin – hashish user
- burnoose – via Latin
- carat – via Greek
- coffee – possibly from the name Kefa, where the coffee plant originates
- elixir – medicinal potion, via Greek
- gauze – from the Persian for raw silk
- jasmine – from Arabic via French
- lilac, from Persian for indigo
- magazine – storehouse
- mocha – named after a city in Yemen
- mummy – via Persian
- safari – from Arabic via Swahili
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