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14 Common Food and Drink Words With Arabic Origins

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A surprising number of common English food and beverage words have Arabic backgrounds. Spanish absorbed many Arabic words during the centuries that the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula, 711 to 1492 AD. Some of these words spread to other European languages, including French. Following the Norman Conquest, some of them entered English. Sometimes, though, the words traveled other routes from Arabic to English.

1. Alcohol

The word originally referred not to intoxicating drink, but to enticing eye make-up. The Arabic word al-kul meant "(the) kohl," the black powder used for eyeliner since ancient Egyptian times. The cosmetic was still used in North Africa and the Middle East when the word entered English in the 1500s. Although the powder was made by grinding various minerals, alcohol came to mean any fine powder or a distilled essence or spirit. In the 1700s, alcohol acquired its current meaning: a colorless volatile flammable liquid that is the intoxicating constituent of wine, beer, spirits, and other drinks.

2. Apricot

This word has a baroque history. It entered English in the 16th century from Portuguese albricoque or Spanish albaricoque, but later was modified by the related French word abricot. Old Spanish albarcoque came from Spanish Arabic al-borcoque, from Arabic al-burqūq. The Arabic word derives from late Greek praikokion, from Latin praecoquum, a variant of praecox, "early ripe."

3. Artichoke

The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and classical Greek inhabitants of Sicily ate cardoons, the wild relative of artichokes. Most likely, the artichoke was cultivated from the wild cardoon in the Islamic world and distributed throughout it by 1500. Artichoke came into English in the mid 16th century from northern Italian articiocco, which came from Spanish alcarchofa, ultimately from Arabic al-karšūfa.

4. Coffee

Coffee comes from Arabic qahwah, meaning coffee or wine, perhaps originally “dark stuff.” The word entered European languages about 1600 from Turkish kahve. It may have passed into English through Italian caffè or Dutch koffie.

5. Lemon 

Lemon may come from Arabic līmūn (a collective term for citrus fruits), via Old French limon (which means "lime" in modern French), although similar words occur in Persian and Sanskrit, making the origin uncertain.

6. Lime

Lime appeared in English in the 17th century from French lime or from modern Provençal limo, from Spanish lima, from Arabic līma. 

7. Orange

Orange has a long and complex history. The American Heritage Dictionary traces the word back to the Dravidian languages of southern India and Sri Lanka, where the fruit likely originated. The editors say that in ancient times, a Dravidian word similar to the modern Tamil word for orange, nāram, was adopted into the Indo-European language Sanskrit as nāraṅgah. As the fruit moved westward, the word entered Persian as nārang and Arabic as nāranj. The Arabs brought oranges to Spain and Sicily between the 8th and 10th centuries and from there the fruit spread to the rest of Europe. Italian adopted the Arabic word as arancio. French altered the first vowel to o-, perhaps influenced by the place name Orange and also by the Old French word or, "gold," in reference to the color. What happened to the n-? It was probably absorbed by the preceding /n/ sound in the indefinite article in French and Italian, although in some cases the n- was already lost in Arabic. The word came into English from Anglo-Norman about 1400. It was first used to denote a color in the mid 1500s.

8. Saffron

It takes a heap of crocus flowers to produce enough stigmas (the part of a pistil that receives the pollen during pollination) to impart the distinctive flavor and bright orange color needed for paella or other dishes in which saffron is used. That’s why it’s so costly. The word entered English before 1200 from Old French safran. In one of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes Sir Thopas: “His heer, his berd was lyk saffroun.” The origin of the word is Arabic zafarān.

9. Sherbet

Sherbet was originally a Middle Eastern beverage made from fruit juice and sweetened water, often cooled with snow. English picked up the word in the early 1600s from Turkish and Persian. Those languages got the word from Arabic sharbah, from shariba to drink. In 19th-century England, sherbet came to mean a sweet, fizzy drink. Now in British English sherbet refers to a fizzy, flavored powder eaten by dipping a finger into the packet. In American English, it refers to a frozen dessert made with fruit juice added to milk or cream, egg white, or gelatin.

10. Sorbet

In the late 16th century, English got the word sorbet from French, which got it from Italian sorbetto, which came from Turkish shorbet, which goes back to sharbah, the same Arabic word that is the origin of sherbet. In American usage, sorbet tends to be lighter than sherbet, often made with just ice and flavoring. 

11. Carob 

The carob tree is a small evergreen native to the eastern Mediterranean that bears long brownish-purple edible pods. The flour made from the pods is sometimes promoted as a chocolate substitute (as if!). According to the OED, the carob pod is “generally identified with the ‘husks’ eaten by the prodigal in the parable, Luke 15:16; and by some taken to be the ‘locusts’ eaten by John the Baptist, whence the names locust-pods, and St. John's bread.” Carob entered English in the mid-1500s, from Old French carobe, from medieval Latin carrubia, from Arabic kharrūba.

12. Caraway

The seeds of the caraway plant, a member of the parsley family, have an anise-like taste and are used to flavor desserts, cheese, Indian rice dishes, and other foods. Caraway entered English around 1440, either from medieval Latin carui, or from a Romance language cognate. (The word is carvi in French, Italian, and Spanish.) In Old Spanish, it was alcaravea or alcarahueya, from Arabic al-karawiyā or –karwiyā.  The editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary believe that the Arabic word is probably derived from Greek karon, "cumin," an idea disputed by the OED.

13. Syrup

The word entered English at the end of the 14th century, from Old French sirop or medieval Latin siropus, ultimately from Arabic sharāb wine or other beverage, syrup, shurb drink. 

14. Tamarind

Tamarind refers to the sticky brown acidic pulp from the pod of a tree of the pea family, widely used as a flavoring in Asian cooking; the pod from which this pulp is extracted; or the tropical African tree that yields the pods. The word shows up in English in the 1500s from medieval Latin tamarindus, from Arabic tamr hindī, "Indian date." 

Sources Oxford English Dictionary Online, accessed via www.lapl.org/; New Oxford American Dictionary, (2nd ed.); Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World, p. 64; American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.).

All images courtesy of iStock.

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23 Slang Terms You Only Understand if You Work in Antarctica
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Thanks to extreme conditions, a small research population, close quarters, and the unique experience of life there, Antarctica has developed a lingo all of its own. Yes, even freezing, remote Antarctica has slang. Here is a sample of some, er, cooler terms, which come from the many English-speaking nationalities, from Canada to New Zealand, that have stepped foot on its ice.

1. BIG EYE

In winter, Antarctica is covered in perpetual darkness; in summer, sunlight. The continent can certainly put a wrench in one’s circadian rhythms, as this slang for light-related insomnia makes plain.

2. TOASTY

Antarctica’s climate also puts a wrench in one’s mental faculties. Crew stationed there often experience a loss of words, forgetfulness, irascibility, and “brain fog” brought on by the dark, cold, and altitude. Toasty is also used for other general misdemeanors committed around the camp.

3. ICE SHOCK

Antarctica’s shell shock. As one Antarctica-based worker blogged about it, ice shock is “when you get back to the rest of the world and realize that no matter how insane Antarctica is, the real world is FAR nuttier, and that you can no longer function in it.”

4. GREENOUT

A riff on whiteout. As The Antarctic Dictionary defines it, greenout is “the overwhelming sensation induced by seeing and smelling trees and other plants spending some time in antarctic regions.”

5. THE ICE

Speaking of the ice, this is how Antarcticans refer to the whole ice-covered continent.

6. CHEECH

Not the counterpart of Chong, but a play on consonant clusters in the name of the place from which many researchers jump off to Antarctica: Christchurch, New Zealand.

7. MACTOWN

McMurdo Station, the U.S. research hub and largest Antarctic community, which can host around 1250 residents in summer.

8. CITY MICE

These are personnel who work at the main research stations.

9. COUNTRY MICE

These are crew who move among different camps on the continent.

10. ICE-HUSBAND/ICE-WIFE

When the cat's away, the mice will play. One’s ice-husband or ice-wife is like a fling for crew down in Antarctica for the season.

11. ICE-WIDOW/ICE-WIDOWER

Meanwhile, one’s spouse or significant other is stuck all alone back home as their loved one is working at the South Pole.

12. FINGY

This pejorative term for a newbie apparently derives from “f—king new guy,” or FNG.

13. BEAKER

An epithet for “scientist.” Some specialist personnel also have nicknames, like fuelie (responsible for fueling various equipment) and wastie (who deal with refuse).

14. WINTER-OVER

When crew, bravely, stay in Antarctica over the entire brutal winter.

15. TURDSICLE

It gets cold down at the southern end of the world. The average—yes, average—temperature is -52ºF. The excrement freezeth, shall we say.

16. SNOTSICLE

So too do boogers freeze in this blend of snot and icicle.

17. DEGOMBLE

“To disencumber of snow,” as The Antarctic Dictionary explains, especially before coming back inside shelter. The origin of gomble is obscure, possibly a term for little balls of snow stuck to the fur of sled dogs.

18. SKUA

Named for the predatory, scavenging skua birds found in Antarctica, a skua pile or bin is a sort of rummage bin. Crew can leave and pick over unwanted items there. Also used as a verb.

19. OFFENSIVE POTATOES

British speakers apparently did not take a liking to canned potatoes they had to eat ...

20. SAWDUST

... nor the dried cabbage.

21. FRESHIES

Shipments of these fresh fruits and vegetables are quite welcome to the cuisine-deprived Antarctica researchers and personnel.

22. POPPY

Alcohol served over Antarctica ice, which makes a pop sound as it releases the gas long pressurized into it.

23. CARROTS

Not that much of the food sounds terribly edible, if slang is any measure, but these carrots aren’t to be munched on. They refer to ice cores, ‘uprooted’ samples whose cylindrical shape resemble the vegetable.

This slang is only the tip of the, um, iceberg. For more, see Bernadette Hince’s The Antarctica Dictionary, the Cool Antarctica website, and The Allusionist podcast, which has explored linguistic life on the ice in its episode, “Getting Toasty.”

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What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
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Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

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