One of my favorite things about English is how it’s a wonderful hodge-podge (a big mix) of many different languages. The words we use every day have all different origins: some from Latin, some from Yiddish, some from French, and some from Spanish. One language that may not come to mind immediately when thinking about the origins of English words is Arabic, but many of our most common words come from this language. With this in mind, we decided to look at Arabic loan words in English.
If you’re as interested in loan words as we are, check out these Arabic loan words! How many do you know?
From أمير (amīr), a military commander.
In English, an admiral is a naval commander, meaning that they are a military commander in sea-based warfare. In Arabic, however, the original word for admiral means a military commander on land.
- The admiral ran some training drills with his men.
- She had been in the navy for years when she finally became an admiral.
From قند qand and قندي qandī, meaning sugared.
Medieval Arabs grew cane sugar, which then spread (got bigger, moved wider) throughout Europe. The Arabic word for sugared then became the word for candy in all Western European languages. What is your favorite kind of candy?
- The children loved Halloween because they were allowed to eat lots of candy.
- When I go home-home, I like to buy all the candy and chocolate I can’t get in Germany.
From زرافة zarāfa, giraffe.
Giraffes are one of my favorite animals. The long necks, the spots, the way they have to bend down to drink…I love everything about them! But I had no idea that the word for giraffe is an Arabic loan word. The word giraffe came to English from Arabic through Italian, when some giraffes came to the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples from a zoo in Cairo.
- Do you want to see the giraffes when we go to the zoo?
- We’re going on a safari in South Africa next year. I hope we get to see a giraffe!
From جرّة jarra, an earthenware jar, or an upright container made of pottery.
How often do you use the word jar? Odds are, pretty often. Jars are in the supermarket, in your kitchen, and you may even have a jar with some spare change in it in your house. Did you know that this extremely common word comes from Arabic?
- Can you open up this jar of yogurt, please? The lid is a little too tight for me.
- My mom brought home a jar of canned peaches from my grandmother. I love those!
From مطرح matrah, a large cushion or rug for lying on.
The comfy (something you can relax on) mattresses we sleep on every night have their origin in Arabic. The word made its way through Latin, Catalan, and Italian before making its way to French and English in the 14th century. At that time, a mattress was just a padded quilt (a thick blanket) you could lie on.
- We need to buy a new mattress for our bed. The old one is worn out.
- There’s nothing like (nothing compares, it’s the best) the first night home after a vacation and sleeping on your own mattress!
From نارنج nāranj, orange.
Oranges are a wonderful fruit. They’re juicy, tasty, and full of vitamin C. They’re a great thing to eat, especially when you’re sick. Not only does the word for the citrus fruit come from Arabic, but so does our word for the color of an orange – orange!
- Can you buy some oranges at the grocery store? They should be next to the lemons and limes.
- Did you see that orange sunset? It was beautiful!
What do you think of these Arabic loan words? Do you know of any others? Let us know in the comments below!
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Check out these other popular blogs: Dating Vocabulary in English, Why You Could Use a Bespeaking Proofreader, Italian Loan Words in English, or these 5 Great Antonyms in English!
Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and has started learning Arabic on Duolingo to learn the origins of more Arabic loan words.
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