English Words Borrowed From Arabic
On a recent program, we told you about some English words borrowed from African languages. Today, we will tell you about words English has borrowed from the Arab world.
Arabic words entered the English language through a number of ways.
In the early 8th century, Arab fighters invaded and took control of the Iberian Peninsula, or what is modern day Spain and Portugal. These forces were known as the Moors. During their occupation, their language spread throughout the area, and entered Latin, the language spoken by the locals.
Over the next several centuries, Christian-led forces took control of the Iberian Peninsula. However, by this time, the language spoken there had been forever influenced by the Arabic language.
Many of these words have survived. As Latin began to influence English, some of the Arabic words were passed on. To this day, many words commonly used in English have Arabic roots.
Algebra is a widely used system in mathematics. It uses symbols, instead of numbers, to solve problems. Algebra is also one of the oldest forms of mathematics. Some of the earliest notes with algebraic formulas were found in Egypt and what is now Iraq.
The word “algebra” itself comes from the Arabic word al jebr, which means a “reunion of broken parts.” This term was first used by a Baghdad mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. He used it in the name of his book Kitab al-jabr w’al-Muqabala, which means “Rule of Reintegration and Reduction.”
The word algebra entered the English language sometime in the 15th century. Word historians believe it probably came from Arab medical workers in Spain. At first, the English word meant “bone-setting,” likely from a medical process of setting broken bones.
The English word alcohol comes from the Arabic word al kohl. Al is the definite article in Arabic, acting much like the word the in English. The original meaning of kohl was a powder, or fine particles, that was added as makeup around the eyes.
It is not clear how this word came to mean a drink. But a common belief is that this happened after the word alcohol entered the English language. The term was once used for the powder produced from sublimation of natural minerals. The meaning was later changed to refer to when substances were purified to create ethanol, a kind of alcohol that can be drunk.
Alcohol is now the most common English word for the colorless, but often powerful liquid in some drinks.
There are several stories about how coffee, another drink, was discovered. The most famous is that coffee beans were discovered in the Oromo area of Ethiopia. However, another country, Yemen, was the first to export the drink widely. The Arabic language is widely spoken in Yemen. The Arabic word for coffee was qahwah, which originally meant “wine.”
Long ago, traders sold coffee beans throughout the Middle East, and later to Turkey, where it was called kahveh. Coffee eventually came to Europe, arriving in Italy, where it was called caffe. By 1650, the drink had arrived in England. By then, the name had changed to the sound it has today, coffee.
Some food names also have Arabic roots, such as a common fruit: the lemon. Like many Arabic words in English, the word became part of Latin and other romance languages before finally entering English.
There are several stories about the origins of lemons. Some experts say they came from India, while others have said it was closer to China. Some records show that Arab traders eventually brought lemons from India to the Middle East. In Arabic, they were called laimun.
The fruit later found its way to Spain, and then spread across Europe. The word entered the French language, and was called limon.
Yet the meaning has always been the same: a “pale yellow citrus fruit.”
In modern use, the English word lemon sometimes suggests difficulty. The word is often used in the expression: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This means that you should always be hopeful and move forward, even during difficult times.
Many people do not realize it, but the Arabic language influenced the numbering system used in most English-speaking countries. It is called the Arabic Numeral System, or the Hindu-Arabic Numeral System.
There are several stories about where the numbers started. But most say the numeral system was first developed in India in the 6th or 7th century. There is evidence that the earliest form of some numbers may have come from Persia. They were later brought into the Arabic language through Baghdad. The final form of the numbers is likely a combination of symbols originating from Hindu and Arabic.
Many experts say it was the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi who was responsible for spreading the Hindu-Arabic numeral system throughout the Middle East, and later to Europe.
Gerbert of Aurillac has been credited with bringing Arabic numerals to Europe after he visited the Iberian Peninsula while under Moorish rule. He later became head of the Roman Catholic Church and was known as Pope Sylvester II.
By the 15th century, the Hindu-Arabic numeral system replaced the Roman numeral system that had been used in Europe.
I’m Phil Dierking. And I'm Alice Bryant.
This story was written by Phil Dierking for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Can you think of any other English words that originated from Arabic? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Now, test your understanding by taking this short quiz.
Words in This Story
bean - n. a seed that is eaten as a vegetable and that comes from any one of many different kinds of climbing plants
citrus - n. a juicy fruit (such as an orange, grapefruit, or lemon) that has a thick skin and that comes from a tree or shrub that grows in warm area
definite article - n. the word the used in English to refer to a person or thing that is identified or specified
ethanol - n. a colorless volatile flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars; alcohol.
formula - n. a general fact or rule expressed in letters and symbols
original - adj. happening or existing first or at the beginning
pale - adj. light in color
sublimation - n. When anything solid turns into a gas without first becoming liquid
symbol - n. an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality — often + of
Lesson 22: Trash to Treasure, Part 2
Sue tries to teach Anna how to turn trash into treasure. But Anna doesn't seem to know what treasure is. And she makes a big mess.
Sue: Welcome to class, Anna. I can’t wait to see your trash!
Sue: Oh, okay. Alright, it’s a -- it’s a net with a … oh, it’s got a hole in it. Tell me about that.
Anna: This net said to me, “Anna, I used to catch stuff. I don’t anymore. So, use me, Anna.” That’s what it said. It said, “Use me, Anna.”
Sue: Okay. So...it’s a plastic helmet.
Anna: This plastic helmet said, “Anna. Hey, Anna, find me a head.”
Sue: Okay, um...and a broken toy.
Anna: This broken toy … this broken toy said to me – it said, “Anna, help me find fun.” “Help me, Anna” is what it said.
Sue: Anna, this stuff is not saying anything to you or me or anyone. It’s what we like to call in the business … garbage.
Anna: But you said to bring in trash.
Sue: Sometimes trash is treasure. Sometimes it's just trash.
Sue: Anna, don’t worry. Next week, I could teach you decoupage.
Anna: Decoupage. Decoupage. That’s fun to say.
Sue: All you need to bring is a clean shoe box. A box that held shoes.
Anna: I got it. I got it! See you next week!
Prof. Bot: Ut oh. It looks like Anna doesn’t know the difference between treasure and trash. She thinks those things are telling her something!
Prof. Bot: The words tell and say have similar meanings. But we use them in different ways.
Prof Bot: Tell means “to inform or instruct someone with words” and is almost always followed by an indirect object. For example, Sue says, “Tell me about that.”
Prof. Bot: The word me is the indirect object and tells us who is being told.
Prof. Bot: Say means “to express something with words” and focuses more on the words used. For example, Anna says, “That’s what it said. It said, ‘Use me, Anna.’”
Prof. Bot: Listen for when Anna and Sue use tell and say.
Sue: Anna, welcome to Decoupage class. Decoupage is just gluing pretty pictures onto stuff.
(Sue gets a phone call.)
Sue: Anna, I’ve got to talk to this person. I’ll be right back. Don’t start without me.
Anna: Got it.
(Sue leaves to take her phone call. Anna gets glue everywhere. She becomes covered with glue and paper.)
Anna: Okay. I can fix this.
Sue: Anna, what happened? I told you to wait for me!
Anna: Actually, you told me not to start without you, which I didn’t. Your glue is really sticky.
Sue: Next week, let’s try lamp making. There’s – there’s no glue. Here's a flier.
Anna: Thanks. See you next week.
Sue: Anna, you did really well this week. I think lamp making might be your thing!
Anna: Thanks, Sue. I did everything you told me to do.
Sue: Remember: I said to read the instructions really carefully. Where are those instructions?
Anna: Let’s just plug it in!
(Anna plugs in the lamp and, suddenly, the city loses electricity.)
Anna: So, what class will you be teaching next week?
Prof. Bot: Too bad Anna didn’t follow instructions! Visit our website for more on tell and say!
actually – adv. used to stress that a statement is true especially when it differs in some way from what might have been thought or expected
command – n. an order given to a person to do something
decoupage – n. the art of decorating an object by gluing pictures onto it
electricity – n. a form of energy that is carried through wires and is used to operate machines, lights, etc.
flier – n. a piece of paper that has something printed on it, such as an advertisement
focus – v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific
garbage – n. things that are no longer useful or wanted and that have been thrown out
glue – n. substance used to stick things tightly together
helmet – n. a hard hat that is worn to protect your head
hole - n. an opening in or through something
net – n. a device that is used for catching or holding things or
paper – n. the material that is used in the form of thin sheets for writing or printing on, wrapping things, etc.
picture – n. a painting, drawing, or photograph of someone or something
plastic – n. a light, strong substance that can be made into different shapes and that is used for making many common products
plug – n. a part at the end of an electric cord that has two or three metal pins that connect the cord to a source of electricity
sticky – adj. covered in a substance that things stick to
stuff – n. materials, supplies, or equipment
thing – n. an object whose name is not known or stated
Now, you try it!
First, read more about tell and say below. Then, practice using those words in the Comments section. Write about what happens in Lesson 22! You can find some examples below. Try making at least one sentence with tell and one with say.
Tell | Say
TELL means “to inform or instruct someone with words.” We use an indirect object (personal pronoun) with tell to say who is receiving the information.
Tell is only used without an indirect object in a few expressions, such as: tell the time, tell the difference and tell the truth.
When we report a command or instruction, we usually also use the verb tell. When we do this, we use an infinitive verb after the indirect object.
Command (in Direct Speech)
“Read the instructions carefully.”
She told Anna to read the instructions carefully.
- In reported speech
- Sometimes in direct speech*
- With a personal pronoun
- Sue told Anna that she liked her lamp.
- She told her to read the instructions carefully.
- Anna told her that the broken toys wanted help.
Sue told me, “So…it’s a plastic helmet.”(wrong)
SAY means "to express something with words." When we use say, we do not focus on who is receiving the information. So, we do not use an indirect object (personal pronoun).
- In direct speech
- In reported speech
- Without a personal pronoun
- Anna said the glue was very sticky.
- Sue said that she had to take a call.
- She said, “Don’t start without me.”
Anna said me, “Got it.”(wrong)
When to Use
In reported speech
In direct speech
With an indirect object
*The verb Tell is sometimes used with direct speech, but this is less common than say. However, it can be common in some types of writing, such as in news reports.
How well do you know the grammar from Level 2? Test yourself!
In Lesson 22, you will see examples of reported speech and other grammar that you have learned in Level 2. Look for sentences in Lesson 22 with:
- Reported speech
- Past habitual
- Passive voice
Then, write those sentences in the Comments section. For example: But you said to bring in trash (reported speech).
See how well you understand this lesson by taking a listening quiz. Play each short video, then choose the best answer.
Torture history, 'secret Thailand prison' dog CIA nominee Gina Haspel
ASEAN+ March 14, 2018 09:41
By Agence France-Presse
CIA director nominee Gina Haspel could face a tough confirmation battle after a number of lawmakers raised questions Tuesday about her past involvement in torture of detainees.
A veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency's black operations, Haspel, 61, was nominated by President Donald Trump to lead the top US espionage body, after he named current CIA director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state.
Haspel is widely respected in the intelligence community as a disciplined, non-political field agent who took on hardship positions and unsavory jobs. From that she rose to manage the global clandestine network before becoming deputy director one year ago.
But her history during the US "war on terror," overseeing interrogations in CIA black sites later exposed as torture, has already set back her career once and could stand in the way again.
Several senior politicians said they would challenge her over torture, ensuring a likely heated debate when she goes up before the Senate Intelligence Committee for confirmation in the coming weeks.
"The torture of detainees in US custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history," said Republican Senator John McCain, who himself was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
"Ms Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA's interrogation program during the confirmation process."
"Ms Haspel's background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director," said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.
'Secret Thailand prison'
Haspel would be the first woman ever to run the CIA. She joined in 1985 and served as chief of station in several posts around the world.
In 2013, she was named to head the National Clandestine Service. But she was quickly replaced after political questions were raised over her role in post-9/11 interrogations.
She oversaw the CIA's black site prison in Thailand in 2002, where, according to numerous reports, key Al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were brutally interrogated, slammed against walls, and repeatedly waterboarded.
She later was helped destroy videotapes taken of the detainee interrogations.
The CIA has always maintained that what it did was legal, the interrogations authorized by president George W. Bush and ruled lawful at the time by the Justice Department.
Torture has since been explicitly outlawed by the government, and despite Trump's endorsement of it, there have been no reports of the US intelligence agencies returning to the practice.
Haspel is appreciated by many in the intelligence community, a number of whom said she will be a good change from the highly political Pompeo.
"She is capable, smart, very experienced, well respected by the agency rank and file, and a great person, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Cipher Brief website.
"I think it's much better to have intelligence professionals serving in senior intelligence positions."
Former CIA Clandestine Service director John Bennett said she took on "some of the most demanding and least rewarding assignments in the War on Terror, not because she sought them out, but because she felt it was her duty."
- Russia expertise -
Besides her record on torture, Haspel will be pressed on the CIA's views of Russia, which Pompeo seemed to downplay in deference to Trump, who has labelled stories of Russian interference in the 2016 election "fake news."
Having once served as deputy director of the CIA's Russia group, Haspel, her defenders say, knows her stuff.
"Ms. Haspel 'grew up' in the CIA during the Cold War. She will have no illusions about the nature of the Russian state or the KGB-trained autocrat who runs it," said Bennett.
Haspel is "a far cry from the current partisan director. She isn't one to play politics, won't be soft on Russia," said Nick Shapiro, former CIA deputy chief of staff.
Police hunt for couple in Pattaya beach sex video
Around Thailand March 14, 2018 09:12
By The Nation
Tourist police are trying to locate and take legal action against a foreign couple who were caught on video having sex on Dong Tan beach in Pattaya City.
The couple appear in a 31-second clip that was taken at 8am on Sunday and widely shared on social networks.
The video shows an unidentified man, who looks like a westerner, having sex with a woman on a drainage pipe behind Jomtien Marine Rescue Centre 3 in Tambon Nong Plue of Chon Buri's Bang Lamung district.
The couple are clothed during the act, with only their shorts slightly pulled down. Many foreign tourists can be seen sitting on the beach.
Officials at the rescue centre said they saw the couple, who appeared to be drunk, arrive early in the morning and sit on the pipe for a while before they began having sex.
An official said he came out and blew his whistle as a warning for the two to stop. They then got up and walked away.
Since the clip has been shared online, tourist police in Pattaya have inspected the scene and tried to locate the two to fine them.
March 14, 2018