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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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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Etymology - 1 (Kind of …)

OED 2 Volumes with Magnifying Glass
Contains the full OED Compacted.

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time … and I am in love with it. If I ever had the chance to choose a career for life, Etymologist would be it.


Of course, I never did choose a career for life.


I started wanteing to be a doctor, like my father (Abi) - but not because of his real influence. Born in 1940 to a doctor - who had been recruited in late 1943 to the British Military Service in WW2 - I travelled to several cities (in and outside India, and to parts that later became Pakistan) with him until the war ended. 

There were no children in camps but Abi insisted that Ummi (my mother) and I had to go along … and was granted permission to do so by the Army. So I was the only child around. The first trip I went to was when I was 4 years old.

With Abi I went fairly often to Hospitals where he treated several soldiers who were injured, some almost beyond belief. I saw nearly dead soldiers and even saw a soldier die before my eyes. I never seemed to fear death. In fact the oldest memory I have was that my Nani (maternal grandmother) died when I was 3 … and I remember that event so clearly. When she was gone, I was told that the angels had taken her to a place to cure her. That was what 'dead' meant to me for years.

In the middle of the war we went to Calcutta for a few days holiday with my Khala (Vaseem). It was there that sirens announced planes coming down (Japanese, I was told) to bomb us. We hid under tables. I was told not to pick up sweets that they may drop, because eating them would cause us to die. Don't know if that was to scare me or it was real.

There were two things I did remember from the camps: One was the day we were celebrating Victory. A young soldier climbed up a long set of stairs and jumped into a pool of water underneath. He missed. Fell flat a couple of feet away. And was dead. On the spot!

Before that death, I remember my father and his colleague discussing a man whose head been pierced by some bullet marks. His colleague, perhaps his senior, had said that they couldn't treat him as it was too close to the brain and there was no way that he would survive the surgery. I often thought of that. I even asked my father, who drew weird pictures on a piece of paper to show what a brain was. But I couldn't really understand.

Later on, just before the 1947 Partition, I was in Budge Budge where my Khalu (famous Indian hockey-player, Asad Ali) had been posted by the Customs.  I saw a few dead people floating down the river because of Hindu-Muslim riots. The river was just across the street. My childhood friend, Sattar, a servant 3 years older than me, was playing football with me and he kicked it so hard that it went across the street, right into a winding part of the Hooghly River. He rushed and bent down the floating bushes to pick up the ball and threw it right back after showing it to me. It was the head of a dead child he had picked up by mistake.

So I wanted to be a doctor as I grew up. A brain surgeon was what I wanted to be. Life at colleges were tough. I got thrown out of one; I walked off the exams in the second one. That'll be in another blogpost that I write. 

Abi was getting severe heart attacks during those days and I couldn't have lived off his money for long. Another year at college. Five years at Medical School. Two years of Internships. Several years of setting myself up as a Surgeon. No way!

I told Abi the only one of two lies I remember telling him: I had done well at my exams and was going to get a First Division. (The second lie I won't get into.) I then said I was going to sail away on a friend's father's ship to Chittagong and meet my cousin there … and come back. I wrote to him from Chittagong that I had actually joined a ship and was in the Merchant Navy now. He was most upset. Again, that'll be in another blogpost, too.

Abi died in 1963. Didn't even live to see me pass my exams and get a reward for having topped the International Navigation marks. Then they suddenly decided to stop giving the official awards, so my Merchant Navy College Head, Captain Safdar, gave me a TimePiece-cum-StopWatch as my gift.


Many of my loves and passions come to me from Abi: Classical Music, Eastern and Western; becoming a voracious reader in English and Urdu; love of and the writing of Urdu Poetry; watching Cricket & Tennis; being totally in love of Science; a passion for correct languages; fighting for Human Rights; loving the truth; even crying in movies :(

We were poor, too. My father had left the Army after Partition, had serious medical problems himself, had a few odd jobs but coudn't continue at his clinic so there was really no money in the house. Ummi was amazing at how she managed to make the loveliest dishes with what little we had - and kept not us but every visitor asking for more. She knew how to make the food we loved out of everything she could get. I used to always tease her about how she managed to put water into everything and make it expand into a lovely, large, edible dish.

Abi's love of books never died. On days when he did go to the clinic and made some money, he'd give most of it to Ummi … but he always bought another book. For himself; for Ummi; and for my birthday gifts. He said to me that if I were really hungry I could tighten my belt and survive another day when food would somehow arrive. But a book was a book. "It gives you pleasure whether your stomach is full or empty …".


One of his loves was Dictionaries. We had many of them. Farsi, Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Old and new. He loved words. … and that, too, came to me.


Which is why I really should have been an Etymologist. 


From the Merchant Navy, after 25 years of service, I came back to Karachi (Ummi's illness and the birth of my daughter, Ragni Marea, after 14 years of marriage) and set-up an educational computing company, Interface, the first of its kind in Pakistan. This arrangement, bad as it was, moved me (with a lot of difficulty) into opening Solutions Unlimited - a consultancy that now runs with my wife heading it. I founded Enabling Technologies, which produced the best Multimedia Software including CD-ROMs in Pakistan. As an Apple-only company we even produced our first CD-ROM for IBM! (That's going to be one of my blogpost, I promise.)

In the meanwhile I also joined Hamdard University and taught for three years until the first Masters came out. Jehan Ara and Sabeen assisted me at some lectures, too. My best student was Syed Ali Hasan, who is now one of our great animators and now also runs a 3D Printing company.

While this was on, I began drawing cartoons for The Friday Times. You can see them here. Do see the first few, anyway. I'll add more as soon as they become available.

My companies — when they started — had my wife Nuzhat, Sabeen, Jehan Ara, and myself … and none of us had taken Computer Studies in our lives, except Sabeen at school. And she had come to my company for further studies. Her KGS Computer Teacher hated her. From Sabeen's exam papers some pages removed when they were sent to UK … so she failed the subject. Efforts by her father, Tallat, proved that this had happened. An act on his part (probably bashing up the Principal!) was probably stopped by Sabeen's mother, Mahenaz, who was teaching at KGS Kindergarten.

The remaining three of us learnt computers on our own, using a BBC computer and then moving on to a 9" Mac. Nothing comes even close to these two systems.

Later on, Sabeen — who'd joined us when she was 14+ as a student and stayed on until she formed PeaceNiche-T2F — and I decided to open Beyond Information Technology Solutions (BITS), partly in association with the Kasuris. They soon left, dedicated as they were to Education, and I owned the company.

Jehan Ara - who had joined us when she had come back from Hong Kong - said she'd rather not be part of this. So we split half of the company: She continued Enabling Technologies and is now the head of Nest I/O and P@SHA.

Sabeen soon became a Director at BITS (as a gift for her years of service with me) and continued with me as a Consultant to some ventures that we occasionally took online (including our work at Tehelka/India and a leading paper in Afghanistan), despite running her new organisation extremely well. In fact T2F is now considered a standard here and elsewhere.


This ended with Sabeen's assassination on 24th April 2015.
Like me, Sabeen was never afraid of death.
Listen to a TV Program about her.


I am sorry I have bored you with this rather long drawn-out preamble. I promise I will move on to Etymology - 2 as soon as I have the time. If you like what I write, you'll find it enjoyable.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

14th October is your Birthday.


Sometimes you appear in family posts.
Most often you don't.
That is only because I never know what to write about you.
There is so much you gave me.
Love,
Peace,
Happiness,
but,
most of all,
the feeling of being aware of tragedies
and to never cry about them.

It was the day that Abi sang
"Hold your head up high",
after our dinner,
that you said,
"Zaheer, yeh baat sün lo!"
Ummi


I miss you.
A lot.

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