Monday, September 1, 2014

Persian Loanwords: Part 2

On Friday, we looked into the history of several Persian terms for foods, plants, and animals that have made their way into English over the centuries. Today we're continuing on with a few more interesting Persian loanwords, such as "serendipity".

Bronze - The third best metal, at least when it comes to the Olympics, gets its name from the Persian word birinj. Throughout the ages, it became bronzium in Latin, bronzo in Italian, and finally bronze in French before reaching English.

Caravan - This term started out as karwan in Persian, meaning "group of travelers", often used in reference to groups traveling through the desert or along the Silk Road. In later years, it became caravana in Latin and caravane in French.

In Persia, chess was originally called chatrang.
Check and checkmate - Both of these important chess terms are thought to have originated in the Persian language, which is quite apt given that the game itself was first popularized in Persia around the 6th or 7th century. "Check" was shah, literally meaning "king", while "checkmate" was shah mat, which literally meant something akin to "the king is left helpless". They eventually evolved into the Old French terms eschequier and eschec mat before reaching English.

Cummerbund - This fun word for an interesting clothing accessory worn around the waist comes from the combination of the Persian words kamar, meaning "waist" and band, meaning "something that ties". It came into use in the English language via Hindi in the early 1600s.

Magic - After originating as the Persian word magush, it evolved into magike in Greek, followed by the similar terms magice and magique in Latin and French respectively.

Mogul - This word comes from the Persian word mughal, meaning "powerful person", which was originally used in reference to leaders of the Mughal Empire.

Pajamas - One of our favorite types of clothing gets its name from paejamah, which literally means "leg clothing" in Persian.

Serendipity - Our final Persian loanword was coined in the mid-18th century by a man named Horace Walpole, who said that his inspiration was the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip because the princes often made great discoveries by accident, which thanks to him we would now call "serendipity".

Did we leave out your favorite Persian loanword? If so, let us know in the comments, and please include a definition!