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





Syria Takes Part in Wahran Film Festival

DAMASCUS - (ST) - The 6Th session of Film Festival in Wahran city in Algeria opened yesterday with the participation of 3 Syrian films, the festival coincides with the cerebrations of 50 years for Algeria National Day.

Syria participated with tow features films entitled: “The Sail and The Storm” by the director Ghasan Shemet , and  “My Last Friend “ by the director  Joud  Saeed .  The films were chosen among 14 features and 13 short films in the competition of Al Waher Al Zahabi.

The Syrian short film “The Way” to the director Raslan Shemet took part in the competition of short films award among 13 films from 8 countries.

Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, UAE, the Sudan, Kuwait and Algeria are taking part in the festival. The event will last till December 22.

Nada Haj khidr 

Chairman of Arab Writers Union: Syria is facing Global War Targeting its Civilization

TARTOUS, (ST) _ Hussein Juma'a, Chairman of the Arab Writers Union, has asserted that Syria is facing a global war targeting its civilization and aiming at fragmenting its unity and undermining its strategic and resistant role in the region.

“The USA has been working since 1952 to replace Arab governments with other ones that work, under the cover of religion, to divide the Arab region and to create sectarian conflicts among its people.” Juma’a said during a meeting Wednesday with Arab Writer Union Members and intellectuals in Tartous.

He called upon intellectuals and writers to hold meetings with citizens and people’s organizations to raise their awareness regarding the real reasons behind the crisis in Syria.

Juma’a confirmed that the Arab Writers Union has been keen to continue its work even after the armed terrorist groups had targeted its office in Damascus.

He asked the Syrian intellectuals to intensify their efforts to disseminate culture and science vis a vis the “takfiri” thinking which some peoples are trying to spread among the Syrian youths.

 For their parts, the intellectuals of Tartous stressed that the ongoing crisis in Syria has nothing to do with so called “Arab Spring”, rather, it is a foreign conspiracy against Syria aiming to end resistance against Israel and to keep the US domination over the region.


Ibrahim Zaaboub

Omar Abu Risha and the Last Love

Syrian poet and diplomat, Abu Risha was born in Manbej(1910-1990), near Aleppo in northern Syria. He studied at  Damascus University then moved to the American University of Beirut before joining the University of Manchester. He was well read in English, American and French poetry, which left a strong influence on his work.

Abu Risha’s father tried to dissuade him from pursuing poetry, and sent him to study chemistry in England. There, Abu Risha fell deeply in love, but the young woman he wanted to marry died of typhoid. He described his pain in a poem called “the last love”, which ushered in a new era of Arabic romantic poetry

He won fame in the Arab world in the 1930s for his modern approach to poetry in which he broke with the traditions of Arab classicism, and for his nationalism in the face of French colonial rule. He went back to Aleppo in 1932 and joined the resistance against the French occupation of Syria. But after the French forces departed, Abu Risha found himself in total discord with many of the political conditions of his country. He had strong belief in the importance of Arab unity. In 1940, Abu Risha was appointed director of the National Library in Aleppo. His first book, Poetry of Umar Abu Risha, was published in 1947 at the top of his fame, and is his most popular work

In 1949, he was appointed for one year ambassador to Brazil, then to Argentina for three years, then India (1954-1959), Vienna, Washington and again India in 1965. In 1970 he resigned from diplomatic service and moved to Beirut. He died in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and was buried in Manbej, Syria.

Abu Risha’s first and only collection of poems was printed 1971. It contains most of his poetry

He was the epitome of Arab poetry at its best and most elevated form. His diplomatic career could not cripple his aspirations and love for his Arab nation. He had belief that the Arab nation was a great one whose old glories needed to be revived. Abu Risha kept glorifying the Arabs and encouraging them into action until his death on 14 June 1990

To his readers and hundreds of thousands of admirers, he was one of few poets who could use the Arabic language very accurately and with exquisite mastery. His poetry is no place for redundancy or misuse of words. He used to speak from the very depths of history, connecting the past with the present

One time he was asked about whether he had any Bedouin origins in his blood,His answer was, “I’m a Bedouin and I’ll always be proud of that".

 Nada haj Khidr


Arabs in Brazilian music

A talk should discuss Brazilian music from the 18th century to date. The event should take place in São Paulo, at the Arab-Syrian Cultural Centre.

The Arab influence on Brazilian music began with the arrival of Malê slaves in the country, in the XVIII Century. Although they were not Arab, they were Muslim and spoke the language very well. They also brought musical instruments that, in the beginning, were used to play religious music. That was just the beginning of a story that has already lasted three centuries. “The Arabs in Brazilian music”, by historian Silvia Antibas, at the Arab-Syrian Cultural Centre.
"The Arab immigrants, in turn, when they arrived, also had participation in music. Odalisques and the Arabian nights were covered by several different artists, as was the case with the Bedouins” said Silvia. Graduated in History from the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, her specialisation is in Museums from the University of Avignon, in France, and she has worked as the director of the Department for Preservation of Museum Assets, connected to the Culture Secretariat of the State of São Paulo.

Among the most ancient examples of musicians of Arab origin, she mentions Nássara and David Nasser, who composed carnival tunes. She also recalls Wanderléa, from Jovem Guarda, and the Caymmi family, until reaching musicians like Waly Salomão, João Bosco, Zeca Baleiro, Almir Sater and Frejat. "Arabs have been included in all rhythms in Brazil. They naturally installed themselves in the Brazilian society and are now in Samba, Rock, Pop and instrumental” pointed out the historian.

Regarding modern Arab musicians, Silvia points out: "Currently, I believe that women are standing out, like Mariana Aydar, Bruna Caram and Marina Elali. This is a generation of women that are turning up and that are interesting. They are great singers,” he added.

Compiled by:Mayssa Wassouf