Sunday, December 19, 2010

Messy Arab Etymology! (On names)


The word “Asia” comes from Greek “Ασία,” which in turn comes from the Akkadian/Saracen word “asa” meaning “east or sunrise.” Arabic (the current lingua franca of all Saracens) has modified this word to “asharq الشرق .”

The word “Europe” comes from Greek “Ευρώπη,” which in turn comes from the Akkadian/Saracen word “ghurob غرب” meaning “west or sunset.” It’s the same word in Arabic.

Interestingly enough, since the Saracens viewed themselves as eastern people (belonging to Asia), the word “ghurob غرب” became synonymous with “strangers” and “ghareeb غريب” meaning foreign/strange.

SUKKAR سكر, HALWA حلوى, & BAKLAWA بقلاوة

Among many types of produce, the Arabs had introduced sugar to Europeans who copied the name into their own respective languages. Although sugar itself (and the word) originally comes from south and southeast Asia, the Arabic word Sukkar comes from the root that means to close or to block. Thus, sukkar literally means intoxicating.

Halva, a great, healthy dessert, entered the English language from eastern European cultures, including Slavic and Yiddish, who borrowed it from the Turks, halve, who in turn took it from Arabic: Halwa, literally meaning “sweet.”

As for baklava, despite Turks and Greeks still fighting over who was first to create this mouth-watering dessert, the word itself is definitely Arabic baqlawa: baql بقل + halwa = sweet nuts. And you know that when an Israeli Mossad agent in Steven Spielberg’s Munich says “The best baklava is made by the Arabs in Jaffa,” then it’s gotta be true!

Read more-Kabobfest


  1. Actually, sugar is originally from Sanskrit:

  2. That was me.  I have to find this great blog on Arabic linguistics for you. 

  3. Here it is:

  4. Thanks Molly..The Mountain of languages..interesting title. It seems to focus on North African languages but I didn't explore it properly yet..

  5. TGIA:

    I was wondering in traditional Arab geography if Europe was considered a separate continent from Asia.  You know me-I kind of think that Europe got continent status because that's where they made the maps.

  6. Yes Joe. I'm presuming that the concept or the notion of continents is rather modern. As separate at least. Arabs knew about and drew maps of what they knew about the Geography of the world. One famous traveler Ibn Batuta made to China but I doubt he thought of those far away lands as "separate". But I could be wrong and here you're raising a very good question (as usual!).. I wish I knew more about that, but my thinking is that natural barriers, high mountains or chains of mountains, oceans and seas were the separation of entities were to be put.

  7. I googled the question, and on this site:

    -they say the notion of Europe and Asia being two continents is not based on geography, but on race-I knew there was something fishy about the whole thing.

  8. In the article I linked to, it says that some "upstart" cartographers want to combine Europe and Asia into Eurasia and add the Mideast as the seventh continent. Greenland is still only an island.

  9. Thanks Joe..I need to take the time to read it but the site looks very interesting and what's more very funny..