Top 50+ English Words—of Arabic Origin!

Posted on 21. Feb, 2012 by in Arabic Language, Culture, Film, Geography, History, Language, Vocabulary

Did you know that words like Adobe (nowadays of PDF Adobe Acrobat fame) and Safari (as in the Apple web browser) are actually Arabic? 

Of course, you already knew of the existence of so-called “loanwords” in English, meaning words which are originally French, German, Spanish, etc.

But were you actually aware that several of them also come from ARABIC?

 IN SCIENCE AND MATH:

  • ALCHEMY and CHEMISTRY (الكيميـــــــــاء.)
  • ALCOHOL (الكُحُـــــــــول.) 
  • ALGEBRA (الجبــر: More on the eponymous founder of Algebra as an independent mathematical discipline here.)
  • ALGORITHM (خوارزم: More on the eponymous founder of algorthimics here.)
  • ALKALINE (القلوي: Meaning “non-acid, basic.”) 
  • ALMANAC (المنــــــاخ: Literally meaning “climate”)
  • AVERAGE (From Old French avarie, itself from the Arabic term عوارية, meaning “damaged goods”, from عور meaning “to lose an eye.”)
  • AZIMUTH (السمــــــــت: This concept is used in several fields, such as الفلك/astronomy، هندسة الطيران/aerospace engineering، and فيزياء الكم/quantum physics.)
  • ELIXIR (الإكسيــــــــــــــر: Something like a “syrup”—also an Arabic term, possibly borrowed from Persian.) 
  • NADIR (نظيـــــــــــــر: It is the opposite of the zenith.)
  • SODA (صـــــــــودا.)
  • ZENITH (سمت الرأس: Literally the “azimuth of the head”، it is the opposite of the “nadir.”)
  • ZERO (same as “cipher.”)

Names of many stars and constellations: 

The name of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice is an obvious pun on the Arabic-named star بيت الجــــــوزاء/Betelgeuse

From an Arabic-named star of a constellation to a Star of video games: Vega (the "Flamenco-styled" Street Fighter character hailing from Spain!)

(Altair: الطَّائـــــــــر meaning “the bird”; Betelgeuse: بيت الجــــــوزاء, meaning “the House of the Gemini”; Deneb: ذنب meaning “tail”; Fomalhaut: فم الحوت which means “the mouth of the Pisces”, Rigel: رِجـــــــل meaning “foot”, it stands for رجل الجبَّار, or the “foot of the Titan”, Vega: الواقع meaning “the Falling”, refers to النسر الواقع، meaning “the falling eagle”, etc.)

  • An entirely separate post is necessary to list all of the astronomical terms which are of Arabic origin.

 TECHNICAL TERMS (ENGINEERING, MILITARY, BUSINESS, COMMODITIES, etc.)

  • ADMIRAL (أميــــــــر الرحلة, meaning commander of the fleet, or literally “of the trip”) 

    الرايس حمِّيـــــــــــدو (Rais Hamidou): A legendary Admiral who led the Algerian Navy before the invasion of his country by France

  • ADOBE (الطوب: meaning a “brick.” Next time you use an Adobe Acrobat product, you will remember that Adobe is originally Arabic!)
  • ALCOVE (القبة: meaning “the vault”, or “the dome”)
  • AMBER (عنبر: Anbar, “ambergris.”)
  • ARSENAL (Do fans of F.C. Arsenal today, including those living in the Arab world, know where the name of their favorite team came from? دار الصناعــــــــــــــــة : “manufacturing house”)
  • ASSASSIN (Just like the word MAFIA, it is of Arabic origin: It either comes from “حشَّــــــــــــــاشين”, referring to the medieval sect of the same name famous for the heavy hashish consumption by its knife-wielding members, or “العسَّاسيــــــــــــــــن”, meaning “the watchmen.”)

    It seems that the medieval Assassin sect has made quite a comeback with "Assassin's Creed", the historical fiction action-adventure video game series featuring the character "Desmond Miles", a descendant of one of the leaders of the sect named "Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad" (literally "Bird Son of No One"---as mentioned above, "Altair" is the name of a constellation still identified by its Arabic name)

  • CALIBER (قـــــــالب: meaning “mold”) 
  • CANDY (from قندي, itself from Persian for “hard candy made by boiling cane sugar”)
  • CHECK (from صکّ, also from Persian meaning “letter of credit.” It would give the Chess expression “Checkmate”, from “الشيخ مات”, or “the Shaikh is dead.”)
  • CORK (القورق)
  • COFFEE (قهوة: For long snubbed by Europeans as the “wine of the infidels”—that is, many centuries before the age of Starbucks and instant coffee!)
  • COTTON (قُطْـــــــــن)
  • GAUZE (either from قَــــــــــزّ, meaning “silk”, or from غَــــــــزّة, “Gaza”, the Palestinian city.)
  • GUITAR (just as LUTE, العود, a musical instrument known to Europeans through the Arabic قيثارة, itself possibly borrowed from a word of Ancient Greek.)
  • HAZARD (الزّهر: “the dice”—Think of an Arabic TV series hazardly titled “The Dukes of Al-Azhar”…) 
  • LAZULI (As in “Lapis Lazuli”, لاژورد: Arabic word for a semi-precious stone famous for its intense blue color. The Arabic word is said to come from a Persian city where the stone was mined.)
  • MASCARA (Just as with the English “masquerade” and the French “mascarade“, mascara comes from the Arabic word مسخرة, an event during which people wear masks, such as carnivals.) 

    "مسخرة/Mascarades": A 2008 prize-winning comedy by Algerian director إلياس سالم (Lyes Salem)---Not fully exempt from stereotypes and distortions, yet much preferrable to many comparable "made-for-Western-audiences" movies, such as the calamitous "turkeys" so typically served by a Merzak Alloueche (to name only him!)

  • MATTRESS (مطـــــــــــــــــــرح.)
  • MONSOON (موسم: Arabic for “season.”)
  • MUMMY (مومياء: Originally from Persian root “موم”, meaning “wax”.)
  • RACQUET (As in a “tennis racket”. Some point to an Arabic origin of Tennis. The word racket comes the Arabic word “راحـــــــة”, as in “راحـــــة اليد”, meaning the “palm of the hand.”)
  • REAM (as in a “ream of paper”, it comes from Arabic رزمة, meaning a “bundle.”) 
  • SAFARI (سفـــــــر: “travel”—As in Apple’s Safari web browser)
  • SASH (شــــــــاش.)
  • SATIN (زيتــــــــــــوني: “Olive-like”, perhaps related to modern Tsinkiang in Fukien province, southern China.) 
  • SOFA (الصُفــــــــة)
    Safari
  • TALCUM (التلك)
  • SWAHILI (Comes from سواحــــــــــل: Plural of ساحــــــــــل, meaning a “coast.”)
  • ZIRCON (زرقـــــــــــــون: “golden-colored.” Zirconium is a chemical element with the symbol Zr and atomic number 40) 

    The English word TARIFF either comes from the Arabic term for "fee" (تعريـــــــــــــــفة), or "تعريـــــــــــــــف/identification", as in "بطاقــــــــة التعريـــــــــــــــف", meaning "Identity Card."---After the whole media fuss regarding his birth certificate, it seems that President Obama's real Identification Card was finally located: It says: "Nationality: Tunisian - Real name: Hussein bou'Omama - Date of Birth: Not too long ago" :)

  • TARIFF (تعاريـــــــــــــــف, plural of تعريـــــــــــــــفة, meaning a “fee”, or simply تعريـــــــــــــــف, as in “بطاقــــــــة التعريـــــــــــــــف“, meaning an “identity card.”)

Finally, to close this list, it is fitting to greet everyone by saying “SO-LONG” (an English expression which, according to The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang, may come from the Arabic word ســـــــــــــــــــــــلام/SALAAM!)

Most of the readers of this blog are actively trying to learn Arabic at some level.  We’ve got many great free language resources to help you learn Arabic free, including our vocabulary builder, Byki Express. Many other language learning programs start by teaching grammar. Byki leverages the fact that adults learn foreign languages fastest by first collecting a pool of words and phrases to draw upon. The bigger your pool, the better equipped you are to communicate in your foreign language.

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13 Responses to “Top 50+ English Words—of Arabic Origin!”

  1. Shocked girl 1 September 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I was studying at EF school and we studied about some english words that originated from other languages . They mentioned most of these words and they’re obvious from Arabs. But they mentioned that the word guitar is Indian, the word safari is African. Common people! are they stupid. Or they tryin to erases the Arabic language. They teach those worlds at all English schools in USA but they tell them those words are originated from India, Africa and other languages, but they’ve never mentioned arabia. They’ve never mentioned those words are originally Arabic words. I will never stop. I will never let these kind of people erase our language and relate it to other languages. Distribute all these words and their originate to let people know those words are originally Arabic .

  2. Cali 14 October 2012 at 6:34 am #

    you are a nice girl shokedGirl, when i tell that words to American English speakers they say oh its Latin, and i ask them, which is oldest, Arabic or Latin?
    and that does help to prove that Arabic is the mother language .

  3. linguist 20 November 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    Cali, do not get carried away. We do not know what language was the mother of all languages – if there is one.

  4. alSSalem 14 January 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Nice list, although you forgot the word Haboob.

    Arab conquests had a lot of influence in Europe as they resided 800 years in Spain and about 200 in Sicily (Siqilia in Arabic) that is why southern Italy people are darker than the north.
    The conquest was for a long period of time, centuries. From Spain spreads to North Africa (The Moors as they are called today) all the way to India.
    Precious Science, Mathematics and Language was used from the Arabs.
    Too bad most people stick to wrong beliefs without research, If they only read more on history they will find out. The media has a strong effect.
    Thank you all.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_conquests
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Islam_in_southern_Italy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moors
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Andalus

  5. zizou 22 February 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    merci

  6. zizou 22 February 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Cali, do not get carried away. We do not know what language was the mother of all languages – if there is one.

  7. zizou 22 February 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Nice list, although you forgot the word Haboob.
    Arab conquests had a lot of influence in Europe as they resided 800 years in Spain and about 200 in Sicily (Siqilia in Arabic) that is why southern Italy people are darker than the north.
    The conquest was for a long period of time, centuries. From Spain spreads to North Africa (The Moors as they are called today) all the way to India.
    Precious Science, Mathematics and Language was used from the Arabs.
    Too bad most people stick to wrong beliefs without research, If they only read more on history they will find out. The media has a strong effect.
    Thank you all

  8. Seanwal111111 1 October 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Most of what’s reported by Hichem in the post above is correct. But a large minority of it is FALSE. In particlar, the words Caliber, Cork, and Guitar are NOT from Arabic. The words Almanac, Soda, Hazard, Mascara, Racquet, Satin, and Zircon may or may not be from Arabic — each word is of obscure origin and the Arabic-origin idea comes without sufficient good evidence in each case. Hichem has taken the information directly or indirectly from a dictionary that doesn’t provide any evidence. If you delve into the actual supporting evidence, you’ll find the evidence is not there at all, or else not there sufficiently and convincingly, for a large minority of the words. See http://EnglishWordsOfArabicAncestry.wordpress.com

  9. mimi 29 December 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    @ Shocked girl, They are not stupid, they know what they are doing. It is just to erase anything that suggest that any achievement, discovery or concept comes from Arabic language and Arab people and to establish an image that Arabs are only Barbaric people that they did nothing, but don’t worry,real educated people know the Arab civilizations and their cultural and scientific contribution to the whole world. then pls know that Arabic doesn’t necessairly related to (Arabia), It is a language that dates back to more than 8000 years BC, and it was the language of people that lived in the whole area of the middle east including Syria and Iraq and the whole area, not to mention that the first alphabet was their achievment, but because Arabs know nothing about their history, they let such people manipulate and deform history, Salam :).

  10. mimi 29 December 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    @ Seanwal11111, Oh my God, Guitar is not form Arabic origins, how could Spain ever known the guitar if it wasn’t for the Ommayads Arabs, it is from the word (guitarra) which obviously sounds like Alquithara (القيثارة) which was introduced to them by Arabs, this fact is recognised by them, pls search using trustworthy resourses that is objective and render real history, then for (Almanac), Is there any person in the whole world doesn’t know that words begining with (AL) are Arabic, western children know that, please it is Almanakh, you can look up its definition,and for the other words, please be objective! Regards

  11. the truth 2 January 2014 at 11:35 am #

    I’M SORRY , I don’t blame the American tutors for telling their students that those words are from American origins, because also arabic teachers do the same or more than that, it’s not just about words,but also about the History itself; they coast shadow on other civilizations like Amazigh that known as the indeginous poeple of north Africa.So comparing between “stilling Words origin and “stilling” History; there is a big different.


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