English Words of Arabic Origin

You may not realize it, but many English words have their origins in Arabic language.  Here are some pretty common ones whose backgrounds I think are particularly interesting:

Alcohol (الكحل) – Originally meaning a finely ground or sifted material, and eventually meaning  a purified material or “quintessence,” achieved through a distillation process.

Algebra (الجبر) – Meaning “completing or restoring broken parts.”  The mathematical meaning derives from a 9th century book that was not translated into Latin until the 12th century.  The origins of Algebra can be dated back to the Babylonians, who developed advanced mathematical systems which included algorithms.

ImagePage from the 9th century algebra book, “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”

Candy (قندي) – Stemming from the word, “qand,” meaning sugar cane, which was cultivated with artificial irrigation by the medieval Arabs and exported to the Latins.

Coffee (قهوة) – Coffee was first cultivated in Yemen in the 15th century, and quickly spread throughout the region, becoming particularly popular in Turkey.  Cafe Mocha was named after the Yemeni port and coffee exporting city of Mocha.

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Turkish Coffee

Ghoul (غهول) – Ghouls are a staple of Arabic folklore, and were first introduced to the Western world in a French translation of 1,001 Nights.

ghoul

Giraffe (جرافة) – Giraffes and their distinctive appearance were discussed by medieval Arab writers.  The animal was first introduced to Italy from a zoo in Cairo in the late 13th century.

giraffe

Mattress (مطرح) – Stemmed from the Arabic verb “tarah,” to throw, and became known as a padded blanket to lie upon.

Sugar (سكر) – Cane sugar originated in India but was produced by medieval Arabs on a larger scale.  The modern words for sugar in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German all stem from Arabic.

There are dozens of other examples like these.  I think they all serve as an important reminder of how interconnected different cultures are, whether or not we realize it.

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Rai Music

Rai is a form of folk music that originated from Bedouin tribes in Algeria.  It is influenced by Spanish, French, African, and Arabic music, and today also incorporates hip hop, reggae, and funk.  Rai, meaning “opinion” in Arabic, can be considered the Arab equivalent to the blues.  Rai lyrics often address the social issues facing native populations as a result of colonization.  The genre became popular among young people, seeking to modernize traditional Islamic values and attitudes. It has been controversial throughout Algeria and there have been many attempts to censor it.  Rai singers are called “cheb,” coming from “shabaab” for “young,” in contrast to “sheikh,” denoting age and respect.

Cheb Hasni – Chira Li Nebghiha

Cheb Khaled – Ouelli El Darek (come back to your home)

Cheb Tarik- L’Histoire (The Story)

Pomegranates

The streets of the Middle East and North Africa are abound with stalls selling fresh juice of all sorts.  You can stop for a moment, pay a few cents, and enjoy a glass of fresh-pressed-just-about-anything.  There is something a little extra regal about pomegranate juice, though, and whenever I see it available, I always stop for a glass.

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The pomegranate, which originated in Persia, is now abundant throughout the Middle East.  It is a nutrient dense, and antioxidant-rich fruit, which carries much symbolism in Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures.  Throughout history, it has symbolized prosperity, ambition, abundance, fertility, resurrection, and good luck.  It is often offered as a wedding or a housewarming gift, and is featured prominently throughout art history.

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Persephone

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Boticelli’s “Madonna of the Pomegranate”

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Bouguereau’s “Girl with a Pomegranate”

Pomegranates are also quite versatile in the kitchen.  Try this recipe with pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses: Pan-fried heloumi with figs and pomegranate!

Skiing in Lebanon

Did you know that you can ski in the Middle East?  You may have heard of Ski Dubai, an artificial ski resort inside the Mall of Emirates.  However, in Lebanon, you can find the real deal.  Lebanon is a mountainous country, with peaks reaching over 10,000 feet.  Often called “The Switzerland of the Middle East,” Lebanon has 6 different ski resorts on the Mount Lebanon range.

Skiing was introduced to Lebanon in 1913 by a Lebanese engineer who had studied abroad in Switzerland.  The French Army established the country’s first ski school in 1935, and the sport continued to develop, with cross country skiing gaining popularity in the 1990s.

Lebanon has much to offer in terms of natural beauty, and due to its small size, traveling between sites is relatively easy.  It is possible to ski amongst the country’s famous cedars in the morning, and then take a swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon.  Lebanon is a country that truly has something for everyone.

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Zellij

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This type of tile work is called “Zellij,” it is in the Moroccan style and is mainly found in Fez.  Zellij is comprised of interlocked shapes, with the number 5 being very prevalent (pentagons, 5 and 10 point stars, 5 colors).  The number 5 is a significant number in Islam, there are 5 pillars of faith, 5 prayer times each day, and the hamsa (the Arabic word for 5) is used as an amulet for protection from evil.

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 Properly executing zellij designs requires steadfast attention to detail and strict adherence to mathematical calculations.  Thanks to measures taken by the Moroccan government, this technique has been preserved, and many capable Moroccan artisans remain to perpetuate the craft.  In fact, Moroccan artisans, renowned for their skill, are often hired throughout the Middle East to undertake restoration projects.

Artisans from Fez were hired to recreate a traditional Moroccan court within the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when it remodeled its Islamic Art wing in 2011.  The result is an example of the highest level of Islamic craft possible today, created within the walls of a museum, and available for all to appreciate.

http://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/collections/isl/building-the-moroccan-court

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/arts/design/metropolitan-museums-moroccan-courtyard-takes-shape.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Olive Oil Soap

Olive oil soap, made from olive oil and lye, is a Middle Eastern handicraft that dates back over a thousand years.  It is traditionally made in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan) from 100% natural materials.  Essential oils and traditional herbs are often added to remedy skin ailments such as dandruff, rosacea, eczema, and acme, as well as to heal wounds and sooth insect bites.  Olive oil has long been known to serve as a deep moisturizer, regenerating and softening skin cells.  Olive oil soap can be found today in suqqs and in apothecary shops, and is still commonly made at home.

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Check out Canaan Fair Trade to find out more info on olive oil soap, as well as other goods produced in Palestine.

Buy olive oil soap and support local artisans here.

Mint Lemonade and Mint Tea

Mint, an herb long cultivated across the Middle East and North Africa, is renowned for its cooling and healing properties.  Its modern name came from an ancient Greek myth.  Persephone, the jealous wife of Pluto, transformed the object of her husband’s lust, the lovely young nymph, Minthe into a plant so all could trample her.  Unable to reverse the spell, Pluto instead gave Minthe a pleasant scent that intensified when she was tread on.  The name Minthe eventually evolved into Mint.  The versatile plant was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in aromatic baths, as a salve for sports injuries, and as an appetite stimulant.  In Rome, Pliny the Elder advised his students to wear wreaths of mint to sharpen their minds, and senators wore mint sprigs in the hope of enhancing their oratory skills and suppressing their tempers.  It has long been known to serve as a digestive aid, as an antiemetic, and as a cough suppressant.  It is refreshing when served cold and soothing when served warm.

Historically, mint is a symbol of hospitality.  The Greeks and Romans would rub mint on banquet tables to greet their guests,  and today, Moroccans are quick to offer a glass of mint tea as a gesture of friendship.

Both mint lemonade and mint tea are widely drunk throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  They are both easy to make, healthy (as long as you are much more conservative with the sugar than they are in the Middle East), and de-licious!

Moroccan Mint Tea:

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Mint Lemonade:

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