List of English words of Arabic origin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arabic is a Semitic language and English is an Indo-European language. The following 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.

To qualify for this list, a word must be reported in etymology dictionaries as having descended from Arabic. A handful of dictionaries have been used as the source for the list.[1] Words associated with the Islamic religion are omitted; for Islamic words, see Glossary of Islam. Archaic and rare words are also omitted. A bigger listing including words very rarely seen in English is at Wiktionary dictionary.

Given the number of words which have entered English from Arabic, this list is split alphabetically into sublists, as listed below:

Addenda for certain specialist vocabularies[edit]

Islamic terms[edit]

Arabic astronomical and astrological names[edit]

Arabic botanical names[edit]

The following plant names entered medieval Latin texts from Arabic. Today, in descent from the medieval Latin, they are international systematic classification names (commonly known as "Latin" names): Azadirachta, Berberis, Cakile, Carthamus, Cuscuta, Doronicum, Galanga, Musa, Nuphar, Ribes, Senna, Taraxacum, Usnea, Physalis alkekengi, Melia azedarach, Centaurea behen, 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, Alpinia zerumbet + Zingiber zerumbet. (List incomplete.)[2]

Over ninety percent of those botanical names were introduced to medieval Latin in a herbal medicine context. They include names of medicinal plants from Tropical Asia for which there had been no prior Latin or Greek name, such as azedarach, bellerica, cubeba, emblica, galanga, metel, turpethum, zedoaria and zerumbet. Another sizeable portion are ultimately Iranian names of medicinal plants of Iran. The Arabic-to-Latin translation of Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine helped establish many Arabic plant names in later medieval Latin.[2] A book about medicating agents by Serapion the Younger containing hundreds of Arabic botanical names circulated in Latin among apothecaries in the 14th and 15th centuries.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

Some additional miscellaneous botanical names with Arabic ancestry include Abutilon, Alchemilla, Alhagi, Argania, argel, Averrhoa, Avicennia, azarolus + acerola, bonduc, lebbeck, Retama, seyal.[7] (List incomplete).

Arabic textile words[edit]

The list above included the six textile fabric names cotton, damask, gauze, macramé, mohair, & muslin, and the three textile dye names anil, crimson/kermes, and safflower, and the garment names jumper and sash. The following are three lesser-used textile words that were not listed: camlet,[8] morocco leather,[9] 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, Italian, Catalan, Spanish, and English, and today it is often guessed to come ultimately from a Persian word for woven (tāftah), and it might have Arabic intermediation. Fustic is a textile dye. The name is traceable to late medieval Spanish fustet dye, which is often guessed to be from an Arabic source.[10] Carthamin is another old textile dye. Its name was borrowed in the late medieval West from Arabic قرطم qartam | qirtim | qurtum = "the carthamin dye plant or its seeds".[11] The textile industry was the largest manufacturing industry in the Arabic-speaking lands in the medieval and early modern eras.

Arabic cuisine words[edit]

The following words are from Arabic, although some of them have entered Western European languages via other languages. Baba ghanoush, Falafel, Fattoush, Halva, Hummus, Kibbeh, Kebab, Lahmacun, Shawarma, Tabouleh, Tahini, Za'atar . Some cuisine words of lesser circulation are Ful medames, Kabsa, Kushari, Labneh, Mahleb, Mulukhiyah, Ma'amoul, Mansaf, Shanklish, Tepsi Baytinijan . For more see Arab cuisine. Middle Eastern cuisine words were rare before 1970 in English, being mostly confined to travellers' reports. Usage increased rapidly in the 1970s for certain words.

Arabic music words[edit]

Some words used in English in talking about Arabic music: Ataba, Baladi, Dabke, Darbouka, Jins, Khaleeji, Maqam, Mawal, Mizmar, Oud, Qanun, Raï, Raqs sharqi, Taqsim.

Arabic place names[edit]


  1. ^ The dictionaries used to compile the list are 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.
  2. ^ a b 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 identified with terse labels: Berberis(R), انبرباريس anbarbārīs = Berberis(Ibn Sina), امبرباريس ambarbārīs = Berberis(Ibn Al-Baitar), الأمبرباريس al-ambarbārīs is also called البرباريس al-barbārīs Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine(Fairuzabadi's dictionary), 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), Berberis(Raja Tazi 1998), Barberry(Skeat 1888);; 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 (Etimología), spelled كشوث kushūth in Ibn al-Baitar;; Doronicum(F), Doronicum(R), spelled درونج dorūnaj in Ibn al-Baitar;; Garingal & Galanga(F), Galingale & Galanga(NED);; Musa(Devic), Musa(Alphita), موز mauz(Ibn al-Baitar), Muse #4 and Musa(NED);; Nuphar (nénuphar)(F), Nénuphar(Lammens);; Ribès(Pierre Guigues 1903 in preface to translation of Najm al-Din Mahmud (died 1330)), Ribes(Lammens 1890), the meaning of late medieval Latin ribes was Rheum ribese.g. e.g. – and the medieval Arabic ريباس rībās had the very same meaning – e.g. ;; Senna(F), Senna(R), Séné(Lammens), Sene in Alphita, السنى al-sanā and السني al-senī in Ibn al-Baitar;; 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), azedarach produced Azadirachta;; béhen(Devic, year 1876), Behemen = behen = behem says Matthaeus Silvaticus (year 1317); this name is بهمن behmen | bahman in Ibn al-Baitar and Ibn Sina;; bellerica(Yule), bellerica(Devic), beliligi = belirici = bellerici(Simon of Genoa), بليلج belīlej in Ibn al-Baitar;; chebula(Yule), kebulus = chebulae(Alphita), chébule(Devic);; cheiranthe(Devic), keiri(NED), خيري kheīrī(Ibn al-Awwam);; cubeba(F), cubeba(R);; emblic(Yule), emblic(Devic), emblic(Serapion the Younger);; harmala(Tazi), harmale(Devic), harmala(other), harmala(more details);; (Salsola) kali(F), kali = a marine littoral plant, an Arabic name(Simon of Genoa year 1292 in Latin, also in Matthaeus Silvaticus);; mahaleb(F), mahaleb(Ibn al-Awwam), mahaleb(Matthaeus Silvaticus year 1317);; mathil->metel(other), metel(Devic), nux methel(Serapion the Younger), جوز ماثل jūz māthil(Ibn Sina);; mezereum(R), mézéréon(Devic), mezereon(Alphita: see editor's footnote quoting Matthaeus Silvaticus and John Gerarde), spelled مازريون māzarīūn in Ibn Sina and Ibn al-Baitar;; sambac(Devic), zambacca(synonyms of Petrus de Abano, died c. 1316), 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, and the medieval Arabic سبستان sebestān was Cordia myxa);; turpeth(F), turpeth(R);; zedoaria(F), zedoaria(R);; zérumbet(F), zerumbet is from medieval Latin zurumbet | zurumbeth | zerumbet which is from Arabic زرنباد zurunbād | zarunbād. The great majority of the above plant names can be seen in Latin in the late-13th-century medical-botany dictionary Synonyma Medicinae by Simon of Genoa (online) and in the mid-15th-century Latin medical-botany dictionary called the Alphita (online); and the few that are not in either of those two dictionaries can be seen in Latin in the book on medicaments by Serapion the Younger circa 1300 (online). None of the names are found in Latin in early medieval or classical Latin botany or medicine books -- partially excepting a complication over the name harmala, and excepting galanga and zedoaria because they have Latin records beginning in the 9th or 10th centuries. In other words nearly all the names were introduced to Latin in the later-medieval period, specifically from the late 11th through late 13th centuries. Most early Latin users lived in Italy. All of the names, without exception, are in the Arabic-to-Latin medical translations of Constantinus Africanus (died c. 1087) and/or Gerardus Cremonensis (died c. 1187) and/or Serapion the Younger (dated later 13th century Latin). The Arabic predecessors of the great majority of the names can be seen in Arabic as entries in Part Two of The Canon of Medicine of Ibn Sina, dated about 1025 in Arabic, which became a widely circulated book in Latin medical circles in the 13th and 14th centuries: an Arabic copy is at All of the Arabic predecessor plant-names without exception, and usually with better descriptions of the plants (compared to Ibn Sina's descriptions), are in Ibn al-Baitar's Comprehensive Book of Simple Medicines and Foods, dated about 1245, which was not translated to Latin in the medieval era but was published in the 19th century in German, French, and Arabic – an Arabic copy is at and at
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Each discussed in Etymologisches Wörterbuch der botanischen Pflanzennamen, by Helmut Genaust, year 1996. Another Arabic botanical name introduced by Prospero Alpini from Egypt was Sesban meaning Sesbania sesban from synonymous Arabic سيسبان saīsabān | saīsbān (Lammens 1890; Ibn al-Baitar). The Latin botanical Abrus is the parent of the chemical name Abrin; see abrine @ 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". Prospero Alpini published his De Plantis Aegypti in 1592. It was republished in 1640 with supplements by other botanists – De Plantis Aegypti, 1640. De Plantis Exoticis by Prospero Alpini (died 1617) was published in 1639 – ref.
  6. ^ A list of 43 of Forsskål's Latinized Arabic fish names is at 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).
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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 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." 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 the late medieval Latins]. 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. The medieval Arabic word was also in the form khamīla. Definitions of خملة khamla | خميلة khamīla, and the plural khamlāt, taken from medieval Arabic dictionaries are in Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon page 813 and in the Lisan al-Arab under خمل khaml Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ The English word 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 of goat-skin made in the country of Morocco, or similar leather made anywhere, with maroquin literally meaning "Moroccan, from Morocco". Maroquin @ NED, morocco @ NED, maroquin @, FEW XIX.
  10. ^ 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", DMF. Medieval Spanish had alfóstigo = "pistachio", medieval Catalan festuc = "pistachio, which were from Arabic فستق (al-)fustuq = "pistachio". Medieval Arabic additionally had fustuqī as a color name, yellow-green like the pistachio nut (e.g.), (e.g.), (e.g.). Many dictionaries today report that the Spanish dye name somehow came from this medieval Arabic word. But the proponents of this idea do not cite evidence of fustuq carrying the dye meaning in Arabic. The use of the word as a dye in medieval Arabic is not recorded under the entry for fustuq in A Dictionary of Andalusi Arabic (1997) nor under the entries for fustuq in the medieval Arabic dictionaries – Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, page 2395, Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. This suggests that the use of the word as a dye may have started in Spanish. From a phonetic angle 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, Du Cange. From the semantic angle, since most names of natural dyes referred to both the plant that produces the dye and the dye itself, fustet meaning "little pieces of wood" can plausibly beget the dye name fustet. 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.
  11. ^ "Carthamin" and "Carthamus" in New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (year 1893). Similarly summarized in (French) and Diccionario RAE (Spanish). For the word in medieval Arabic see قرطم @ Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine (see also عصفر ʿusfur), قرطم @ Ibn al-Awwam and قرطم @ Ibn al-Baitar.