From suf to sofa: Word journeys & the great cloud of Arabic in English

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 26, 2014

arabic to english wordsSofa, alcohol, giraffe, ghoul…just a few examples of how we speak Arabic when we express ourselves in English.

Oxford Dictionaries has just launched its Oxford Arabic Dictionary and used the occasion to look at English words of Arabic origin.

Click here to see a fuller list and the evolution of the original Arabic word through other languages into everyday English.

Cotton, for example, started life as ‘qutn’, then the French ‘coton’ and the Italian ‘cotone’.

Gazelle is the English result of the Arabic ‘gazal’ transforming into old French ‘gazel’, the French ‘gazelle’ and Italian ‘gazella’.

‘Al-kuhul’ evolved through the Latin ‘alcohol’, Turkish ‘alkol’, German ‘alkohol’ and Italian ‘alcol’ into the adult beverage.

Evolutionary linguistics is a fascinating subject. Though it’s often said that the origins of a language (and word) is hard to determine because it leaves no fossils, suf and other Arabic root words are the preserved remains that speak volumes.