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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Etymology - 2 (Or should that be Et 2?)

As I said in my last post — Etymology - 1 (Kind of …), just in case you missed it — Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. 


Te 2 Volume Compact OED

Because of my friend Masood Mahmood's description, I bought this 2 Volume Oxford English Dictionary, when my ship went to London. It had the full several volume dictionary compacted into two volumes. You had to use a magnifying glass to read the entries - and that came in the little box on the top.

This dictionary not only told us of the origins of most words, their movements from one language to another, the ways it had been used, the very first time it was used, it even offered us quotes of the words from well-known authors. Brilliant!


Among the first word I found when briefing through the volume — not an easy task, given its weight and the large magnifying glass being held — was Masquerade. The word, came from Masque - a face mask that people wore at these dance balls. And who did you think generally wore masks? Clowns! So what was the origin of this set of words? Think of Mascara, the eye shadow liner that women use and that does look a bit like the eyes of a mask if broadened in its application. You are getting close. Yes … the clowns made us laugh and were called Maskhara in Arabic. مسخرہ! There were hundreds more words there that came from Arabic, Persian, and Hindustani.




Soon after buying this dictionary I also bought
this delightful book.



Yiddish is a language that was used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. It was originally a German dialect with words from Hebrew and several modern languages and is today spoken mainly in the US, Israel, and Russia. I loved Yiddish words and phrases (not only because many centuries ago my family was Jewish). I came across Yiddish words and phrases often in some American novels and very often in Jewish Humour and Satire. My admiration for Lenny Bruce - one that almost turned into worship - was another reason I loved Yiddish.

Reading Joys at the same time as reading many religious books, specially our own, I found the words had very different meanings in the Jewish language, Aramaic. Some words even came down to Yiddish, too.

I learnt, for example, the Jahannüm (جہنّم) was written as Ge Hennom, the name of a valley between two very high close mountains. The winds that went through it were terribly hot. A person guilty of treason was thrown live into that valley. The winds very slowly scorched him to a fiery death. 


This fun Yiddish dictionary, which had many interesting words, also had loads of humour - thanks to Rosten.  I still read it when I am feeling low.

Since some Yiddish words had their origins in Aramaic, Joys also got me interested in that language, too. I went looking for an Aramaic-English book, but that proved almost impossible. I did find smaller books, though, that translated parts of it, specially the Biblical stories, another area of my interest - and one that I really love.


For this who don't know anything about Aramaic,
Wikipedia says this:

The Aramaic language is a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. Originally this language of the Aramaeans, it was used, in many dialectical forms, in Mesopotamia and Syria before 1000 B.C., and later became the lingua franca of the Middle East. Aram is the Hebrew word for ancient Syria. Aramaic survived the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.) and Babylon (539 B.C.) and remained the official language of the Persian Empire (539-337 B.C.). Before the Christian era, Aramaic had become the language of the Jews in Palestine. Jesus preached in Aramaic, and parts of the Old Testament and much of the rabbinical literature were written in Aramaic language.



Potassium comes from the English word Potash. The chemical symbol, K, comes from Kalium, the Mediaeval Latin for Potash. Kalium was taken from the word alkali, which in turn came from Arabic: القَلْيَه‎‎ al-qalyah (= "plant ashes"). The similar-sounding English term alkali is from this same root. Elemental Potassium oxidizes rapidly in air and reacts vigorously with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite Hydrogen emitted in the reaction. Kali - a Hindu Goddess -  has her earliest appearance of a destroyer principally of evil forces, and is often portrayed standing or dancing on her consort, the Hindu god Shiva, who lies calm and prostrate beneath her. Her name came from the Indo-European language.





Ignis is Latin for Fire. In Hindi Agni means fire, and connotes the Vedic fire-god. In Sanskrit: “She Who Is Death”; In Hinduism, goddess of time, doomsday, and death. Another God that got its name from Indo-European languages.







Ether is the rarefied element formerly believed to fill the upper regions of space. It was all around us. It comes from Latin aethēr (“the upper pure, bright air”), from Ancient Greek αἰθήρ (aithḗr, “upper air”), from αἴθω (aíthō, “I burn, shine”). In Arabic it is Ithar (ایثر) and in modern Hindi it is Ishwar which comes from the Sanskrit word Ishvara meaning "the supreme lord who is around us all". Obviously one cannot help but see the links between this word, its Arabic equivalent, and the Hindi word. Here is a picture that describes the god.





Some of you, specially young readers, may ask
why should there be any Indo-European languages.
This is what actually happened
(taken from Herari's "Sapiens" - an amazing book!)



The Urdu word (مادر) followed the same Persian root.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Here are some more words that we use that come

from Aramaic and are used in Abrahamic Religions.


A word that struck me was Rachmon. This meant the kind of love that a mother gives to a child in her womb, never having yet seen it. Remember that many of our people also say Rakhman instead of Rahman (after all there is only a 'dot' on top of خ to make it a ح — kind of like a diacritical mark). So when the Jews say Rachmones be on you,  they mean that their God should give you the love that a mother gives to her child while it is in the womb. An undying love. The Arabic word (رحمٰن) came from this Aramaic word. ٰIt describes the Muslim God who loves them.

From the Quranic Verse [17.110]

Say: "Call upon Allah, or call upon Rahman: by whatever name ye call upon Him, (it is well): for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names.""

(Translation: Abdullah Yusuf Ali) 


Nephesh is used in Arabic/Urdu as Nafs (نفس), and in the English Bible it as translated as Breath. A term we use often with slightly varying meanings in both these languages.

Rouach means Wind and is used as Rooh (روخ translated into روح : See my note above) in Arabic or Urdu. It is translated in the Bible as Spirit.

Shechinah is spelt Shekinah in English and is not in the Bible but comes from Talmudic writing. It is a grammatically feminine Hebrew word that means the dwelling or settling, and is used to denote 'the dwelling or settling divine presence of God'. In Arabic/Urdu it is Sakeenah (سکینہ), a common Urdu name for females.



There is so much to learn via Etymology. Let me almost end this post with a well-known Urdu word and how it may have been translated from Arabic into Hindustani.

Think of (ٰضیا)
pronounced in Arabic as Dhiya'
(and in English as Zia)
meaning "The Light".

Think of Diya (دیا)
used in Hindustani/Hindi/Urdu
as a lamp or "a source of light".

Could that difference have come from the ORIGINAL word being translated into two different forms by listening to the sounds and writing it in the Hindustani language in its Urdu and Hindi scripts? 


Happy Divali



But, finally, we must end with Death.
(It is so far the only way we know of how to leave this world,
though Science will soon take care of this, too, I know!)


We call this Death
Maot (موت) - in Urdu

Arabic = (Al Maot),
Hindi (Mautaa),
Indonesian (Maut)
and in many other languages.

We often say, in Urdu,
Maot has arrived
when Death arrives at someones door.

But where do we get the word Maut from?

From early Hebrew!
'Maot' was their name for the 'God of Death'.


God be with you!!!


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