Top 50+ English Words—of Arabic Origin


Did you know that words like Adobe (nowadays of PDF Adobe Acrobat fame) and Safari (as in the Apple web browser) are actually Arabic?

  Of course, you already knew of the existence of so-called “loanwords” in English, meaning words which are originally French, German, Spanish, etc.


But were you actually aware that several of them also come from ARABIC?



•           ALCHEMY and CHEMISTRY (الكيميـــــــــاء.)

•           ALCOHOL (الكُحُـــــــــول.) 

•           ALGEBRA (الجبــر: More on the eponymous founder of Algebra as an independent mathematical discipline here.)

•           ALGORITHM (خوارزم: More on the eponymous founder of algorthimics here.)

•           ALKALINE (القلوي: Meaning “non-acid, basic.”) 

•           ALMANAC (المنــــــاخ: Literally meaning “climate”)

•           AVERAGE (From Old French avarie, itself from the Arabic term عوارية, meaning “damaged goods”, from عور meaning “to lose an eye.”)

•           AZIMUTH (السمــــــــت: This concept is used in several fields, such as الفلك/astronomy، هندسة الطيران/aerospace engineering، and فيزياء الكم/quantum physics.)


•           CIPHER (صِفـــــــــــــــــــــــــــر: The term “cipher” is now mostly applied in cryptography—see الكَندي/Al-Kindi’s work.)

•           ELIXIR (الإكسيــــــــــــــر: Something like a “syrup”—also an Arabic term, possibly borrowed from Persian.)

•           NADIR (نظيـــــــــــــر: It is the opposite of the zenith.)

•           SODA (صـــــــــودا.)

•           ZENITH (سمت الرأس: Literally the “azimuth of the head”، it is the opposite of the “nadir.”)

•           ZERO (same as “cipher.”)


The name of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice is an obvious pun on the Arabic-named star بيت الجــــــوزاء/Betelgeuse


From an Arabic-named star of a constellation to a Star of video games: Vega (the "Flamenco-styled" Street Fighter character hailing from Spain!)

(Altair: الطَّائـــــــــر meaning “the bird”; Betelgeuse: بيت الجــــــوزاء, meaning “the House of the Gemini”; Deneb: ذنب meaning “tail”; Fomalhaut: فم الحوت which means “the mouth of the Pisces”, Rigel: رِجـــــــل meaning “foot”, it stands for رجل الجبَّار, or the “foot of the Titan”, Vega: الواقع meaning “the Falling”, refers to النسر الواقع، meaning “the falling eagle”, etc.)



•           ADMIRAL (أميــــــــر الرحلة, meaning commander of the fleet, or literally “of the trip”) 


الرايس حمِّيـــــــــــدو (Rais Hamidou): A legendary Admiral who led the Algerian Navy before the invasion of his country by France

•           ADOBE (الطوب: meaning a “brick.” Next time you use an Adobe Acrobat product, you will remember that Adobe is originally Arabic!)

•           ALCOVE (القبة: meaning “the vault”, or “the dome”)

•           AMBER (عنبر: Anbar, “ambergris.”)

•           ARSENAL (Do fans of F.C. Arsenal today, including those living in the Arab world, know where the name of their favorite team came from? دار الصناعــــــــــــــــة : “manufacturing house”)

•           CALIBER (قـــــــالب: meaning “mold”)

•           CANDY (from قندي, itself from Persian for “hard candy made by boiling cane sugar”)

•           CHECK (from صکّ, also from Persian meaning “letter of credit.” It would give the Chess expression “Checkmate”, from “الشيخ مات”, or “the Shaikh is dead.”)

•           CORK (القورق)

•           COFFEE (قهوة: For long snubbed by Europeans as the “wine of the infidels”—that is, many centuries before the age of Starbucks and instant coffee!)

•           COTTON (قُطْـــــــــن)

•           GAUZE (either from قَــــــــــزّ, meaning “silk”, or from غَــــــــزّة, “Gaza”, the Palestinian city.)

•           GUITAR (just as LUTE, العود, a musical instrument known to Europeans through the Arabic قيثارة, itself possibly borrowed from a word of Ancient Greek.)

•           HAZARD (الزّهر: “the dice”—Think of an Arabic TV series hazardly titled “The Dukes of Al-Azhar”…) 

•           LAZULI (As in “Lapis Lazuli“, لاژورد: Arabic word for a semi-precious stone famous for its intense blue color. The Arabic word is said to come from a Persian city where the stone was mined.)

•           MASCARA (Just as with the English “masquerade” and the French “mascarade“, mascara comes from the Arabic word مسخرة, an event during which people wear masks, such as carnivals.) 


•           MATTRESS (مطـــــــــــــــــــرح.)

•           MONSOON (موسم: Arabic for “season.”)

•           MUMMY (مومياء: Originally from Persian root “موم”, meaning “wax”.)

•           RACQUET (As in a “tennis racket”. Some point to an Arabic origin of Tennis. The word racket comes the Arabic word “راحـــــــة“, as in “راحـــــة اليد“, meaning the “palm of the hand.”)

•           REAM (as in a “ream of paper”, it comes from Arabic رزمة, meaning a “bundle.”)

•           SAFARI (سفـــــــر: “travel”—As in Apple’s Safari web browser)

•           SASH (شــــــــاش.)

•           SATIN (زيتــــــــــــوني: “Olive-like”, perhaps related to modern Tsinkiang in Fukien province, southern China.) 

•           SOFA (الصُفــــــــة)


•           TALCUM (التلك)

•           SWAHILI (Comes from سواحــــــــــل: Plural of ساحــــــــــل, meaning a “coast.”)

•           ZIRCON (زرقـــــــــــــون: “golden-colored.” Zirconium is a chemical element with the symbol Zr and atomic number 40) 

•           TARIFF (تعاريـــــــــــــــف, plural of تعريـــــــــــــــفة, meaning a “fee”, or simply تعريـــــــــــــــف, as in “بطاقــــــــة التعريـــــــــــــــف“, meaning an “identity card.”)

Source:Advanced Study Center of the Arab World

Compiled by :Maysa Wassouf