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List of English words of Arabic origin

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The following English 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. Some of them are not ancient in Arabic, but are loanwords within Arabic itself, entering Arabic from Persian, Greek or other languages.

To qualify for this list, a word must be reported in leading etymology dictionaries as having descended from Arabic. A handful of dictionaries has been used as the source for the list.[1] In cases where the dictionaries disagree, the minority view is omitted or consigned to a footnote. Rare and archaic words are also omitted. A bigger listing including many words very rarely seen in English is available at


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

Specialist vocabulariesEdit

Islamic termsEdit

Main article: Glossary of Islam

Arabic astronomical and astrological namesEdit

Arabic botanical namesEdit

The following plant names entered medieval Latin texts from Arabic. Today they are international systematic names ("Latin" names): Azadirachta, Berberis, Cakile, Carthamus, Cuscuta, Doronicum, Galanga, Musa, Nuphar, Ribes, Senna, Taraxacum, Usnea, Physalis alkekengi, Melia azedarach, 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. (List incomplete.)[2]

Over eighty percent of those botanical names were introduced to medieval Latin in a herbal medicine context. The Arabic-to-Latin translation of Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine helped establish many Arabic plant names in later medieval Latin, especially of medicinal plants of tropical Asian source for which there had been no Latin or Greek name, such as azedarach, bellerica, cubeba, emblica, galanga, metel, turpethum, and zedoaria.[2] A book about medicating agents by Serapion the Younger containing hundreds of Arabic botanical words 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 medicinal formulary (authorship attributed to Al-Kindi, died 870, although perhaps partially or wholly of later date), the pharmacological names—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 Latin 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 Latin 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 wordsEdit

The list above included the textiles cotton, damask, gauze, macrame, mohair, & muslin, and several textile dyes. The following are seven lesser-used textile fabric words that were not listed. Some of them are archaic. Baldachin [1], Barracan [2], Camlet[8] [3], Cordovan[9] [4], Marabou [5], Morocco leather [6], and Tabby [7]. 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 [8], Chiffon [9], Fustian [10], Gabardine [11], Satin [12], and Wadding (padding) [13]. The fabric Taffeta [14] has provenance in 14th-century French and Italian and comes ultimately from a Persian word for weaving, and it may have Arabic intermediation. Fustic [15] is a textile dye. The name goes back to late medieval Spanish fustet dye, which is thought to be from Arabic فستق fustuq = "pistachio".[10] Carthamin is another old textile dye. Its name was borrowed in the late medieval West from Arabic قرطم qirtim | qurtum = "the carthamin dye plant or its seeds".[11] The textile industry was the largest manufacturing industry in the Islamic countries in the medieval and early modern eras.

Arabic cuisine wordsEdit

Part of the vocabulary of Middle Eastern cuisine is from Turkish, not Arabic. The following words are from Arabic, although some of them have entered the West via Turkish. Baba ghanoush, Couscous, Falafel, Fattoush, Halva, Hummus, Kibbeh, Kebab, Lahmacun, Shawarma, Tabouleh, Tahini, Za'atar .... and some cuisine words of lesser circulation are Ful medames, Kabsa, Kushari, Labneh, Mahlab, Mulukhiyah, Ma'amoul, Mansaf, Shanklish, Tepsi Baytinijan .... For more see Arab cuisine.

Arabic music wordsEdit

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


See alsoEdit


  1. The dictionaries used to compile the list are primarily 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. 2.0 2.1 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 noted: Berberis(R), Berberis(Tazi), Barberry(Skeat), امبرباريس ambarbārīs = Berberis(Ibn Al-Baitar), انبرباريس anbarbārīs = Berberis(Ibn Sina), الأمبرباريس al-ambarbārīs is also called al-barbārīs(, Galen uses name "Oxyacantha" for Berberis(John Gerarde), Arabic amiberberis = Latin Berberis(Matthaeus Silvaticus);; 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(Helmut Genaust);; Doronicum(F), Doronicum(R);; Garingal & Galanga(F), Galingale & Galanga(NED);; Musa(Devic), Musa(Alphita), موز mauz(Ibn al-Baitar), Muse #4 and Musa(NED);; Nuphar (nénuphar)(F), Nuphar (nenufar)(NED), Nénuphar(Lammens);; Ribes(F), Ribes(NED), Ribes(Lammens) (the meaning of late medieval Latin ribes was Rheum ribes (e.g.) (e.g.));; Senna(F), Senna(R), Séné(Lammens);; 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), Azadirachta(Helmut Genaust);; bellerica(Yule), bellerica(Devic);; chebula(Yule), ebulus = kabulus = chebulae(Alphita), chébule(Devic);; cheiranthe(Devic), keiri(NED);; cubeba(F), cubeba(R);; emblic(Yule), emblic(Devic), emblic(Pierre Guigues);; harmala(Tazi), harmale(Devic), harmala(other);; (Salsola) kali(F), kali = a marine littoral plant, an Arabic name(Simon of Genoa year 1292 in Latin, and the same is in Matthaeus Silvaticus 1317);; for mahaleb see Prunus mahaleb#Early history of mahaleb in human use;; mathil->metel(other), metel(Devic), nux methel(Serapion the Younger, medieval Latin), metel(other);; mezereon(Devic), mezereum(R);; sambac(Devic), zambacca(Petrus de Abano), 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);; turpeth(F), turpeth(R);; zedoaria(F), zedoaria(R). Most of the above plant names can be seen in Latin in the mid-15th-century medical botany dictionary called the Alphita and in the late-13th-century "Synonyma Medicinae" by Simon of Genoa. The Arabic predecessors of nearly all the above plant names can be seen in Arabic as encyclopedia entries in Part Two of Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine, dated early 11th century, which became a widely circulated book in Latin in the 13th and 14th centuries: Ibn Sina – The Canon of Medicine - Book Two. Better descriptions of the plants are in Ibn al-Baitar's Book of Simple Medicaments and Foods, dated early 13th century, which was not translated to Latin in the medieval era but has since been published in German, French, Spanish and Arabic.
  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 Alpini was Sesban meaning Sesbania sesban from synonymous Arabic سيسبان saīsabān | saīsbān (Helmut Genaust 1996; Lammens 1890; Ibn al-Baitar). The Latin botantical 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".
  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." Definitions of خملة khamla taken from some medieval Arabic dictionaries are in Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon page 813.
  9. Cordovan meaning a type of leather is in Latin from 1096 as cordoam | corduamnus | corduanos | etc. and French cordoan dates from early 12th century. The name referred to leather made in Islamic Cordoba at the time, and thus the name is deemed to come from Arabic qortobi = "of Cordoba" – Cordouan @ English "cordwain" is a derived wordform, now obsolete, which was common in late medieval English as a type of leather – "cordwain" @ NED. The pre-Arabic and classical Latin name for the city was "Corduba".
  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, Lexilogos. Medieval Spanish had the somewhat phonetically similar alfóstigo = "pistachio", which was from Arabic al-fustuq = "the pistachio". Medieval Arabic additionally had fustuqī = "the yellow-green color of the pistachio nut" (e.g.), (e.g.). The use of the word as a dye in medieval Arabic is not recorded under the entry for fustuq in the 1997 book A Dictionary of Andalusi Arabic nor under the entries for fustuq in the medieval Arabic dictionaries – Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, page 2395, This suggests that the use of the word as a dye may have started in Spanish. From a phonetic view 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. 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). Also in Origin of Cultivated Plants by Alphonse de Candolle (year 1885). قرطم @ has the medieval Arabic (see also عصفر ʿusfur).

General referencesEdit

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