21 Apr 2013

Six English words you didn't know came from Arabic

Many English words are borrowed from Arabic. The BBC recently highlighted a few, such as cheque which comes from the saqq, cotton which comes from qutn, magazine which comes from makhzan and safari which comes from safar. There are however many more words borrowed from Arabic that few know about it, here are twelve of them:

Alarm: Many English words that start with 'al' come from Arabic, and alarm is one of them. It comes from the Arabic al-‘arm which is a device used by airline ground control to alert the police the presence of suspicious passengers. It was a wooden device usually placed in the lowered position, but when the operator saw someone they didn't like the look of, they would lift up, hence the phrase 'raise the alarm'.

Al Gore: Like alarm, the term al gore also come from Arabic, it derives from al ghor. This term was used to describe mules that were entirely devoid of charisma and had to be used solely for menial labour as they didn't have any career opportunities in the entertainment world. Although sometimes a ghor could be attached to another more charismatic mule as a sort of 'straight mule' in comedy routines. 

Bomb: Comes from the Arab terms bumba, an old Arabic word that describes a very ripe date that falls from the tree on its own. During Napoleon's campaign in Egypt the locals first came across bombs and started calling them bumba. The French officers started using the same term, which eventually entered English usage.

Control-Alt-Delete: Control-Alt-Delete originates from the Arab qontor al-ta'alit, which signifies a new beginning in the Sufi tradition. This was based on the concept of cyclical trinity which John Lennon was taught about from a Sufi master in Egypt. Lennon brought the term into English in the sixties. 

EU: The term EU derives from an old Arabic exclamation by merchants, ouww. The term was used when a business negotiation stumbled because of an uncooperative merchant bringing the negotiation to a halt. The merchants would exclaim ouww to signal their discontent. The term was later used to describe any bureaucratic and inefficient organisation, and when the European Union was launched the term was borrowed from Arabic but changed to the Latin spelling EU. 

Stereotype: The term stereotype comes from the Arabic word sotdrba, an early Arab camel-racing term. A sotdrba was a female-camel that applied mainly superficial considerations in forming its social relationships with a tendency to extrapolate character traits from physical appearance. An early Arab scientist, Abu Lov, carried out extensive experiments on sotdrbas and concluded that they are conditioned to respond to physical attributes. The term entered English through British anthropologists in the 18th century. 


  1. Teasing: derives from the word Tiizz or butt. "Tiizz-ing" or "طيزينغ" describes the action of slapping one's personal Tiizz as a sign of indifference or the I-dont-give-a-shit attitude about something or someone, and is usually followed by the expression "la tizzi" or "talk to my butt". Tizzing was very popular throughout the years of colonization of the arab world (2013b.c. - 2013a.c.). The ritual became a term in English expressing a feeling long lived by homophobic colonizers who unfortunately (to the colonized) did talk to the butt at the end.

  2. when arabs were dominant and ruling the world they have contributed not only to english vocabulary but also to other languages, considerably.

  3. Why am I only counting six? I FEEL LIKE IM GOING OUT OF MY MIND.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. i think this article is meant to be a joke

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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