List of English words of Arabic origin
The following English words have been acquired either directly from Arabic or else indirectly by passing from Arabic into other languages and then into English. Most entered one or more of the Romance languages before entering English. Some of them are not ancient in Arabic, but are loanwords within Arabic itself, entering Arabic from Persian, Greek or other languages.
To qualify for this list, a word must be reported in leading etymology dictionaries as having descended from Arabic. A handful of dictionaries has been used as the source for the list. In cases where the dictionaries disagree, the minority view is omitted or consigned to a footnote. Rare and archaic words are also omitted. A bigger listing including many words very rarely seen in English is available at en.wiktionary.org.
Lists of words
Given the number of words which have entered English from Arabic, this list is split alphabetically into sublists, as listed below:
- List of English words of Arabic origin (A-B)
- List of English words of Arabic origin (C-F)
- List of English words of Arabic origin (G-J)
- List of English words of Arabic origin (K-M)
- List of English words of Arabic origin (N-S)
- List of English words of Arabic origin (T-Z)
Arabic astronomical and astrological names
Arabic botanical names
The following plant names entered medieval Latin texts from Arabic. Today they are international systematic names ("Latin" names): Azadirachta, Berberis, Cakile, Carthamus, Cuscuta, Doronicum, Galanga, Musa, Nuphar, Ribes, Senna, Taraxacum, Usnea, Physalis alkekengi, Melia azedarach, Terminalia bellerica, Terminalia chebula, Cheiranthus cheiri, Piper cubeba, Phyllanthus emblica, Peganum harmala, Salsola kali, Prunus mahaleb, Datura metel, Daphne mezereum, Rheum ribes, Jasminum sambac, Cordia sebestena, Operculina turpethum, Curcuma zedoaria. (List incomplete.)
Over eighty percent of those botanical names were introduced to medieval Latin in a herbal medicine context. The Arabic-to-Latin translation of Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine helped establish many Arabic plant names in later medieval Latin, especially of medicinal plants of tropical Asian source for which there had been no prior Latin or Greek name, such as azedarach, bellerica, cubeba, emblica, galanga, metel, turpethum, and zedoaria. A book about medicating agents by Serapion the Younger containing hundreds of Arabic botanical words circulated in Latin among apothecaries in the 14th and 15th centuries. Medieval Arabic botany was primarily concerned with the use of plants for medicines. In a modern etymology analysis of one medieval Arabic list of medicines, the names of the medicines —primarily plant names— were assessed to be 31% ancient Mesopotamian names, 23% Greek names, 18% Persian, 13% Indian (often via Persian), 5% uniquely Arabic, and 3% Egyptian, with the remaining 7% of unassessable origin.
The Italian botanist Prospero Alpini stayed in Egypt for several years in the 1580s. He introduced to Latin botany from Arabic from Egypt the names Abrus, Abelmoschus, Lablab, Melochia, each of which designated plants that were unknown to Western European botanists before Alpini, plants native to tropical Asia that were grown with artificial irrigation in Egypt at the time. In the early 1760s Peter Forsskål systematically cataloged plants and fishes in the Red Sea area. For genera and species that did not already have Latin names, Forsskål used the common Arabic names as the scientific names. This became the international standard for most of what he cataloged. Forsskål's Latinized Arabic plant genus names include Aerva, Arnebia, Cadaba, Ceruana, Maerua, Maesa, Themeda, and others.
Some additional miscellaneous botanical names with Arabic ancestry include Abutilon, Alchemilla, Alhagi, Argania, argel, Averrhoa, Avicennia, azarolus + acerola, bonduc, lebbeck, Retama, seyal. (List incomplete).
Arabic textile words
The list above included the textiles cotton, damask, gauze, macrame, mohair, & muslin, and several textile dyes. The following are seven lesser-used textile fabric words that were not listed. Some of them are archaic. Baldachin , Barracan , Camaca , Camlet , Cordovan , Morocco leather , and Tabby . Those have established Arabic ancestry. The following are six textile fabric words whose ancestry is not established and not adequately in evidence, but Arabic ancestry is entertained by many reporters. Five of the six have Late Medieval start dates in the Western languages and the sixth started in the 16th century. Buckram , Chiffon , Fustian , Gabardine , Satin , and Wadding (padding) . The fabric Taffeta  has provenance in 14th-century French and Italian and is believed to come ultimately from a Persian word for woven (tāftah), and it might have Arabic intermediation. Fustic  is a textile dye. The name goes back to late medieval Spanish fustet dye, which is thought to be from Arabic فستق fustuq = "pistachio". Carthamin is another old textile dye. Its name was borrowed in the late medieval West from Arabic قرطم qirtim | qurtum = "the carthamin dye plant or its seeds". The textile industry was the largest manufacturing industry in the Arabic-speaking lands in the medieval and early modern eras.
Arabic cuisine words
Part of the vocabulary of Middle Eastern cuisine is from Turkish, not Arabic. The following words are from Arabic, although some of them have entered the West via Turkish. Baba ghanoush, Couscous, Falafel, Fattoush, Halva, Hummus, Kibbeh, Kebab, Lahmacun, Shawarma, Tabouleh, Tahini, Za'atar .... and some cuisine words of lesser circulation are Ful medames, Kabsa, Kushari, Labneh, Mahlab, Mulukhiyah, Ma'amoul, Mansaf, Shanklish, Tepsi Baytinijan .... For more see Arab cuisine.
Arabic music words
Notes about the List
The various etymology dictionaries are not always consistent with each other. This reflects differences in judgment about the reliability or uncertainty of a given etymological derivation.
Obsolete words and very rarely used non-technical words are not included in the list, but some specialist technical words are included. For example, the technical word "alidade" comes from the Arabic name for an ancient measuring device used to determine line-of-sight direction. Despite few English-speaking people being acquainted with it, the device's name remains part of the vocabulary of English-speaking surveyors, and today's instrument uses modern technology, and is included in the list.
There are no words on the list where the transfer from Arabic to a Western language occurred before the ninth century AD; the earliest records of transfer are in ninth century Latin. Before then some words were transferred into Latin from Semitic sources (usually via Greek intermediation), including some that later ended up in English, but in most cases the Semitic source was not Arabic and in the rest of the cases it is impossible to know whether the Semitic source was Arabic or not. See List of English words of Semitic origin, excluding words known to be of Hebrew or Arabic origin.
The list has been restricted to loan words: It excludes loan translations. Here's an example of a loan translation. Surrounding the brain and spinal chord is a tough outer layer of membrane called the dura mater. The words dura and mater are each in Latin from antiquity. Medieval Latin dura mater [cerebri], literally "hard mother [of the brain]" is a loan-translation of Arabic الأمّ الجافية al-umm al-jāfīa [al-dimāgh], literally "dry-husk mother [of the brain]" (in Arabic the words father, mother and son are often used to denote relationships between things). As another well-known example, the word "sine"—as in sine, cosine and tangent—has its first record with that meaning in an Arabic-to-Latin book translation in the 12th century, translating Arabic jayb. Jayb had a second and quite unrelated meaning in Arabic that was translatable to Latin as sinus and the translator took up that connection to confer a new meaning to the Latin sinus, in preference to borrowing the foreign word jayb. About half of the loan-words on the list have their earliest record in a Western language in the 12th or 13th century. Some additional, unquantified number of terms were brought into the West in the 12th and 13th centuries by Arabic-to-Latin translators who used loan-translations in preference to loan-words. Some related information is at Translations from Arabic to Latin in the 12th century.
- Arabic influence on the Spanish language
- Influence of Arabic on other languages
- List of Arabic Star Names
- List of English words containing Q not followed by U
- List of French words of Arabic origin
- List of Islamic terms in Arabic
- List of Portuguese words of Arabic origin
- List of English words of Sanskrit origin
- List of English words of Persian origin
- List of traditional star names
- The dictionaries used to compile the list are primarily these: Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales: Etymologies, Online Etymology Dictionary, Random House Dictionary, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Arabismen im Deutschen: lexikalische Transferenzen vom Arabischen ins Deutsche, by Raja Tazi (year 1998), A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (a.k.a. "NED") (published in pieces between 1888 and 1928), An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (year 1921) by Ernest Weekley. Footnotes for individual words have supplementary other references. The most frequently cited of the supplementary references is Glossaire des mots espagnols et portugais dérivés de l'arabe (year 1869) by Reinhart Dozy.
- References for the medieval Arabic sources and medieval Latin borrowings of those plant names are as follows. Ones marked "(F)" go to the French dictionary at Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales, ones marked "(R)" go to Random House Dictionary, and other references are noted: Berberis(R), Berberis(Raja Tazi), Barberry(Skeat), انبرباريس anbarbārīs = Berberis(Ibn Sina), امبرباريس ambarbārīs = Berberis(Ibn Al-Baitar), الأمبرباريس al-ambarbārīs is also called البرباريس al-barbārīs(Fairuzabadi), Galen uses name "Oxyacantha" for Berberis(John Gerarde), Arabic amiberberis = Latin Berberis(Matthaeus Silvaticus), Berberis is frequent in Constantinus Africanus (Constantinus Africanus was the introducer of plantname Berberis into medieval Latin);; Cakile(Henri Lammens 1890), Cakile(Pierre Guigues 1905), Kakile Serapionis(John Gerarde 1597), Chakile(Serapion the Younger, medieval Latin);; for Carthamus see Carthamin;; Cuscute(F), Cuscuta(Helmut Genaust);; Doronicum(F), Doronicum(R);; Garingal & Galanga(F), Galingale & Galanga(NED);; Musa(Devic), Musa(Alphita), موز mauz(Ibn al-Baitar), Muse #4 and Musa(NED);; Nuphar (nénuphar)(F), Nuphar (nenufar)(NED), Nénuphar(Lammens);; Ribes(F), Ribes(NED), Ribes(Lammens) (the meaning of late medieval Latin ribes was Rheum ribes (e.g.) (e.g.));; Senna(F), Senna(R), Séné(Lammens);; Taraxacum(Skeat), Ataraxacon(Alphita), Taraxacum(R);; Usnea(F), Usnea(R), Usnee(Simon of Genoa), Usnée(Lammens);; alkekengi(F), alkekengi(R);; azedarach(F), azedarach(Garland Cannon), azadarach + azedarach(Matthaeus Silvaticus anno 1317), Azadirachta(Helmut Genaust);; bellerica(Yule), bellerica(Devic);; chebula(Yule), ebulus = kabulus = chebulae(Alphita), chébule(Devic);; cheiranthe(Devic), keiri(NED);; cubeba(F), cubeba(R);; emblic(Yule), emblic(Devic), emblic(Pierre Guigues);; harmala(Tazi), harmale(Devic), harmala(other);; (Salsola) kali(F), kali = a marine littoral plant, an Arabic name(Simon of Genoa year 1292 in Latin, and the same is in Matthaeus Silvaticus 1317);; for mahaleb see Prunus mahaleb#Early history of mahaleb in human use;; mathil->metel(other), metel(Devic), nux methel(Serapion the Younger, medieval Latin), metel(other);; mezereon(Devic), mezereum(R);; sambac(Devic), zambacca(Petrus de Abano), sambacus(Simon of Genoa), زنبق = دهن الياسمين(zanbaq in Lisan al-Arab);; sebesten(other), sebesten(Devic), sebesten(Alphita) (sebesten in late medieval Latin referred to Cordia myxa, not Cordia sebestena);; turpeth(F), turpeth(R);; zedoaria(F), zedoaria(R). Most of the above plant names can be seen in Latin in the mid-15th-century medical botany dictionary called the Alphita and in the late-13th-century "Synonyma Medicinae" by Simon of Genoa. The Arabic predecessors of nearly all the above plant names can be seen in Arabic as encyclopedia entries in Part Two of Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine, dated early 11th century, which became a widely circulated book in Latin in the 13th and 14th centuries: Ibn Sina – The Canon of Medicine - Book Two. Better descriptions of the plants are in Ibn al-Baitar's Book of Simple Medicaments and Foods, dated early 13th century, which was not translated to Latin in the medieval era but has since been published in German, French, Spanish and Arabic.
- "Les Noms Arabes Dans Sérapion, Liber de Simplici Medicina", by Pierre Guigues, published in 1905 in Journal Asiatique, Series X, tome V, pages 473–546, continued in tome VI, pages 49–112.
- Analysis of herbal medicine plant-names by Martin Levey reported by him in "Chapter III: Botanonymy" in his 1973 book Early Arabic Pharmacology: An Introduction.
- Each discussed in Etymologisches Wörterbuch der botanischen Pflanzennamen, by Helmut Genaust, year 1996. Another Arabic botanical name introduced by Alpini was Sesban meaning Sesbania sesban from synonymous Arabic سيسبان saīsabān | saīsbān (Helmut Genaust 1996; Lammens 1890; Ibn al-Baitar). The Latin botantical Abrus is the parent of the chemical name Abrin; see abrine @ CNRTL.fr. The Arabic لبلاب lablāb means any kind of climbing and twisting plant. The Latin and English Lablab is a certain vigorously climbing and twisting bean plant. Prospero Alpini called the plant in Latin phaseolus niger lablab = "lablab black bean".
- A list of 43 of Forsskål's Latinized Arabic fish names is at Baheyeldin.com/linguistics. Forsskål was a student of Arabic language as well as of taxonomy. His published journals contain the underlying Arabic names as well as his Latinizations of them (downloadable from links at the Wikipedia Peter Forsskål page).
- Most of those miscellaneous botanical names are discussed in Etymologisches Wörterbuch der botanischen Pflanzennamen, by Helmut Genaust, year 1996. About half of them are in Dictionnaire Étymologique Des Mots Français D'Origine Orientale, by L. Marcel Devic, year 1876. The following are supplemental notes. The names argel and seyal were introduced to scientific botany nomenclature from الحرجل harjel and سيال seyāl in the early 19th century by the botanist Delile, who had visited North Africa. Retama comes from an old Spanish name for broom bushes and the Spanish name is from medieval Arabic رتم ratam with the same meaning – ref, ref. Acerola is from tropical New World Spanish acerola = "acerola cherry" which is from medieval Spanish and Portuguese acerola | azerola | azarola = "azarole hawthorn" which is from medieval Arabic الزعرور al-zoʿrūr = "azarole hawthorn" – ref, ref. Alchimilla appears in 16th century Europe with the same core meaning as today's Alchemilla (e.g.). Reporters on Alchemilla agree it is from Arabic although they do not agree on how.
- In late medieval English, chamelet | chamlet was a costly fabric and was typically an import from the Near East – MED, NED. Today spelled "camlet", it is synonymous with French camelot which the French CNRTL.fr says is "from Arabic khamlāt, plural of khamla, meaning plush woollen cloth.... The stuff was made in the Orient and introduced to the Occident at the same time as the word." Definitions of خملة khamla taken from some medieval Arabic dictionaries are in Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon page 813. The historian Wilhelm Heyd (1886) says: "The [medieval] Arabic khamla meant cloth with a long nap, cloth with a lot of plush. This is the common character of all the camlets [of late medieval commerce]. They could be made from diverse materials.... Some were made from fine goat hair." – Histoire du commerce du Levant au moyen-âge, Volume 2 pages 703-705, by W. Heyd, year 1886.
- Cordovan meaning a type of leather is in Latin from 1096 as cordoam | corduamnus | corduanos | etc. and French cordoan dates from early 12th century. The name referred to leather made in Islamic Cordoba at the time, and thus the name is deemed to come from Arabic qortobi = "of Cordoba" – Cordouan @ CNRTL.fr. English "cordwain" is a derived wordform, now obsolete, which was common in late medieval English as a type of leather – "cordwain" @ NED. The pre-Arabic and classical Latin name for the city was "Corduba".
- The English name morocco meaning a type of leather is a refreshed spelling of early 16th century English maroquin, from 15th century French maroquin meaning a soft flexible leather from the country of Morocco. In later centuries the name morocco designated a soft flexible leather made in any country. Maroquin @ NED, morocco @ NED, maroquin @ CNRTL.fr.
- Fustic in the late medieval centuries was a dye from the wood of a Mediterranean tree. After the discovery of America, a better, more durable dye from a tree wood was found, and given the same name. The late medieval fustic came from the Rhus cotinus tree. "Rhus cotinus wood was treated in warm [or boiling] water; a yellow infusion was obtained which on contact with air turned into brown; with acids it becomes greenish yellow and with alkalies orange; in combination with iron salts, especially with ferrous sulphate a greenish-black was produced." – The Art of Dyeing in the History of Mankind, by Franco Brunello, year 1973 page 382. The earliest record of the word as a dye in the Western languages is in 13th-century Spanish as "fustet", followed by 14th-century French as "fustet" and "fustel" – CNRTL.fr, DMF, Lexilogos. Medieval Spanish had the somewhat phonetically similar alfóstigo = "pistachio", which was from Arabic al-fustuq = "the pistachio". Medieval Arabic additionally had fustuqī = "the yellow-green color of the pistachio nut" (e.g.), (e.g.). The use of the word as a dye in medieval Arabic is not recorded under the entry for fustuq in the 1997 book A Dictionary of Andalusi Arabic nor under the entries for fustuq in the medieval Arabic dictionaries – Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, page 2395, Baheth.info. This suggests that the use of the word as a dye may have started in Spanish. From a phonetic view the medieval Spanish and French fustet is a diminutive of the medieval Spanish and French fuste = "boards of wood, timber", which was from classical Latin fustis = "wooden stick" – DRAE, Lexilogos.com, Du Cange. The semantic transformation from "pistachio" to "fustic dye" is poorly understood, assuming it happened. New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (year 1901) says "the name was transferred from the pistachio [tree] to the closely allied Rhus cotinus". But the two trees are not closely allied.
- "Carthamin" and "Carthamus" in New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (year 1893). Similarly summarized in CNRTL.fr (French) and Diccionario RAE (Spanish). Also in Origin of Cultivated Plants by Alphonse de Candolle (year 1885). قرطم @ Baheth.info has the medieval Arabic (see also عصفر ʿusfur).
- The Latin anatomy term dura mater has its earliest record in Latin in the medical writer Constantinus Africanus (died c. 1087). Constantinus Africanus has a 4-page chapter entitled "the composition of the membranes situated on the interior of the skull" (it is in Latin at Ref, and a variant Latin edition is downloadable at Ref). This was the place of birth of the term dura mater in Latin anatomy. Constantinus was fluent in Arabic and most of his overall content was taken from Arabic sources. For his material on dura mater, Constantinus's source was Ali Ibn Al-Abbas Al-Majusi, aka Haly Abbas (died c. 990) – details about how dura mater arose as an Arabic loan-translation are on pages 95-96 (including footnote #27) of the article "Constantine's pseudo-Classical terminology and its survival", by Gotthard Strohmaier in the book Constantine the African and ʻAlī Ibn Al-ʻAbbās Al-Maǧūsī: The Pantegni and Related Texts, year 1994. Constantinus's chapter with the term dura mater also contains the first known use of the term pia mater, which for Constantinus had the same meaning as it has today (i.e. a certain membrane lying between the brain and the skull), and this too was a loan-translation from Arabic – the term was al-umm al-raqīqa = "thin mother" in Ali Ibn Al-Abbas. Cf pia mater @ NED , pia mater @ CNRTL.fr. Early adopters of the names dura mater and pia mater include William of Conches (died c. 1154) and Roger Frugard (died c. 1195), both of whom took lots of material from Constantinus. As noted by Strohmaier (1994), the classical Greek medical writer Galen (died c. 200 AD) was acquainted with the dura mater and the pia mater, which he called in Greek sklera meninx (literally "hard membrane") and lepte meninx (literally "thin membrane"), also spelled μῆνιγξ. For the medieval Arabic writers on medicine including Ali Ibn Al-Abbas, the writings of Galen were the most quoted and requoted antecedent source for their knowledge of anatomy. For the early medieval Latins, the writings of Galen were mostly unknown and not in circulation (although a small subset was in circulation). The later medieval Latins were introduced to Galen texts from Arabic sources in the 12th century. Subsequently the Latins found Galen in Late Byzantine sources.
- Webster's (1913), Dictionary.Reference.com (2010), sinus#2 @ CNRTL.fr, and many others. Cf medieval جيب jayb in Lane's Lexicon page 492.
- Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales – well-referenced etymologies in French language
- Arabismen im Deutschen: lexikalische Transferenzen vom Arabischen ins Deutsche, by Raja Tazi (year 1998). – 400-page book about the German words of Arabic ancestry. Mostly the same words that are seen in English. German got the words mostly from French and Latin, and thirdly from other European languages.
- Baheth.info – searchable copies of large medieval Arabic dictionaries, including the dictionaries by Ibn Manzur, Fairuzabadi, and Al-Jawhari
- Richardson's Persian-Arabic–English Dictionary, year 1852 Edition – 1400 pages; downloadable
- Middle English Dictionary – biggest and best for late medieval English, fully searchable online
- Online Etymology Dictionary – compiled by Douglas Harper – Online Etymology Dictionary
- Dictionary.Reference.com – has the online copy of Random House Dictionary
- CollinsDictionary.com – online copy of Collins English Dictionary
- Concise OED – online copy of Concise Oxford English Dictionary
- TheFreeDictionary.com – has online copy of American Heritage Dictionary
- Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary – online copy of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
- An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (year 1921), by Ernest Weekley – downloadable, 850 pages, a good compilation of short summary etymologies
- An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (year 1888), by Walter W. Skeat – sometimes found incorrect by later research but usually not