English – Made in India, and Arabia

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Ray Hudson

You Don’t Say – Vol 34

by Ray Hudson

Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

Picking up from last week, there’s a whole lot more to English than Greek and Latin. Many cultures have contributed to the vocabulary we use every day.

India has contributed many words in daily use. The computer gaming community has brought the word avatar in to common use. The Indians define this as a god or goddess appearing in human form on earth. In computer speak it refers to an online character that represents a real-world “user” or person (maybe) and is used in multi-player games, online communities and web forums. And I’m having enough trouble figuring out whether I’m coming or going in the real world without complicating it beyond that.

Yoga, not to be confused with yogurt – which is Turkish – comes from Sanskrit and means to unite. Once you get past tying your limbs up in impossible positions, you actually feel really great! Used with meditation, I’m sure it’s not to dull the pain, one can achieve significant levels of spiritual peace and prepare you for an encounter with your guru (Sanskrit).

If you practice yoga in your bungalow, you’re employing another Hindi word, “bangla” meaning a style of Bengal (the region) where a specific style of cottage was built for early European settlers. The term is certainly deeply imbedded in the patter of many a real estate agent with no thought of it’s roots. Veranda or varanda is a word that actually comes from India via Portuguese or Portuguese via India. Originally it means a vine training system and now means that wonderful porch on your bungalow under which you can while away those super warm afternoons we’ve been enjoying.

So remember India, that great sub-continent, the next time you apply shampoo or put on your pajamas.

Arabia is another source for many words that found their way into English.

I’ll tease you a bit with a few of a huge number of Arabic words used in English:

Where would HMS Pinafore’s Leader of the Queen’s Na-vee be without the word Admiral? This word seems to have evolved from the Arabic amir-al-bahr which means ruler of the sea. Seems fitting!

Other words credited with Arabic origins include; almanac, amber – from ambergris (from whales). Although put in more delicate terms, ambergris comes from a slurry ejected into the ocean from a Sperm Whale’s intestine. Eventually it hardens and washes up on a beach, where finding a piece is like winning the lottery. National Geographic cites a piece found by a young boy, weighing just over a pound, to be worth $63,000. They use it to make perfume (who figured that one out?) because it has a property of fixing a scent to human skin. I think we’ll leave that for biology class.

Other well known Arabic words include assassin (which was a secretive murderous cult in the 11th and 12th centuries) which derived from the Arabic word hasisi meaning hahish eaters, candy – from qandi, from the game of chess (and life) checkmate which came from sha:h ma:t meaning the king is dead (the game is over), mattressmatrah for ‘place where something is thrown’ mat or cushion, safari – journey, and sofa – from s,uffah a raised dais with cushions’ which is where I’ll leave you, on your varanda,

Have a good week.

If you’d like to share any language issues, irritations, comments or gotcha moments, please send them to ray@swmediagroup.ca