People are surprised to learn of the many Arabic words in English language. England seems such a long way from the world of the Arabs, yet words travel well, often passing from one language to the next in a chain.
There are two main routes of Arabic words into English. The most recent are words referring to things relating to Islam, such as mosque or Hajj, but most actually came into English via the Romance languages. Many of the Arabic words are themselves derived from Ancient Greek or Persian words.
Enjoy this list of Arabic Words in English Language!
الكحل al-kohl, is a very fine powder. The word was used in Latin for the same meaning in the 13th century, spelled alcohol. The alchemy writer Theophrastus Paracelsus (died 1541), who saw alcohol powders produced by sublimations as kinds of distillates, was first to use the word to refer to distillation of wine. An 18th century English dictionary defined alcohol as “a very fine and impalpable powder, or a very pure well rectified spirit.”
From الجبر al-jabr,”completing, or restoring broken parts.” The 9th century mathematician, Mohammed Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, was the first to use it in a mathematical context. This algebra book was translated to Latin in the 12th century, through which the word entered other European languages.
From الخوارزمي al-khwārizmī, a short version of the name of mathematician Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (died c. 850). The Latinization of this name to “Algorismi” in the 12th century gave rise to algorismus in the early 13th, both used to refer to the elementary methods of “Arabic” decimal number system. In the 19th century the word acquired its modern meaning.
دار صناعة dār sināʿa, “house of manufacturing”, frequently used to refer to military manufacturing. The spellings darsena and arsena were used in 12th century Italian to designate a naval dockyard. In 16th century English an arsenal was either a naval dockyard or an arsenal, or both.
حشاشين ḥashāshīn, an Arabic name for a hash smoking sect of Arabic assassins during the Crusades era. In Latin, French and Italian, the sect was called the Assassini. By the 14th century, it meant any kind of assassin and the word entered French and English by the 16th century.
قهوة qahwa, “coffee”. Qahwa became kahve in Turkish which became caffè in Italian. The latter word-form entered most Western languages in the early 17th century. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses throughout England and the word was in common use.
زرافة zarāfa, “giraffe”. Medieval Arabic writers such as Al-Jahiz and Al-Masudi were very interested in giraffes. The word transferred to Italian around the 13th century and was later adopted into English.
حشيش hashīsh, meaning “dried herb”. Its earliest record as a name for cannabis is in 12th-13th-century Arabic. It was first used in English in a traveller’s report from Egypt in 1598 It was common by the 19th century.
سفر safar, “journey”. The Arabic word entered the Swahili language at an unknown time, and went from Swahili to English Safari in the late 19th century.
طلسم tilsam | tilasm, talisman. The Arabic word derives from Late Greek telesma meaning “consecration rite”. The word is used 200 times in an 11th century occult book of magic called the Ghāyat al-Hakīm. The word entered astrology in the West with this meaning in the early 17th century.