Friday, August 29, 2014

Persian Loanwords: Part 1

In the past we've looked into the origins of various loanwords that have made their way into English from languages such as Portuguese, Dutch, and Quechua. Over the next few days we'll be turning our focus to some of our favorite Persian loanwords, starting with some fascinating terms for foods, animals, and flowers.

Candy and sugar - Two of the most irresistible foods in existence get their name from the Persian language. The word "sugar" came to English via the French term sucre, which originated as the Arabic word sukkar and Persian shakar. Its popular crystallized form also made its way into English via French, but originated as the word qand in Persian.

Caviar - One of the most famous luxury foods in the world, this fish egg "delicacy" came to English via the French world caviar. It originated as the Persian term khaviyar before making its way into Turkish as khaviar and Italian as caviaro before finally reaching French.

A beautiful golden jackal enjoying a nice howl.
Jackal - These small canines get their name from the Persian term shaghal, which literally translates as "the howler". We're sure you can guess how they got that name.

Jasmine - This distinctive plant is known for its beautiful fragrance. Its name comes from the Persian word yasmin via the French jasmin.

Lemon and orange - The names for both of these popular citrus fruits originated in the Persian language. The Persian word limun was at one time a generic term for all citrus fruits, while narang is one of the earliest recorded words for "orange". It later became arancia in Italian and orange in French before reaching English. 

Lilac - This beautiful flowering plant gets its name from the Persian word lilak, which was related to the term nilak, meaning "bluish". It eventually became the familiar word lilac in Spanish and French before being borrowed by English.

Tiger - The largest of all cat species gets its name from the Old Persian word tigra, meaning "sharp" or "pointed", which we imagine is a reference to its teeth. The name for this fascinating animal eventually became the Greek and Latin term tigris before reaching French as tigre.

Tulip - Our final word for the day is "tulip", a flower often associated with the Dutch. While the word made its way into English via the Dutch or German terms tulpe, it actually originated as the Persian word dulband, meaning "turban". Some believe this is because the flower resembles a turban, while others attribute the use of the term for the flower as an early translation error, as it was once quite fashionable to wear tulips on turbans during the reign of the Ottoman Empire.

We'll be back with more Persian loanwords on Monday!