Posted by: episystechpubs | May 24, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Arabic to English

Hello!

A coworker and friend of the Editor’s Corner, Robert Trescott, sent me an interesting article about the Moors in Spain, which led to a conversation about Arabic words that made it into our English vocabulary, and ended with me doing some research on some of the words in the article. I’ll share a few of these with you today and a few tomorrow.

The etymologies are from one of my favorite websites, the Online Etymology Dictionary.

alchemy: mid-14c., from Old French alchimie (14c.), alquemie (13c.), from Medieval Latin alkimia, from Arabic al-kimiya, from Greek khemeioa (found c.300 C.E. in a decree of Diocletian against "the old writings of the Egyptians"), all meaning "alchemy." Perhaps from an old name for Egypt (Khemia, literally "land of black earth," found in Plutarch), or from Greek khymatos "that which is poured out," from khein "to pour," related to khymos "juice, sap" [Klein, citing W. Muss-Arnolt, calls this folk etymology]. The word seems to have elements of both origins.

Mahn … concludes, after an elaborate investigation, that Gr. khymeia was probably the original, being first applied to pharmaceutical chemistry, which was chiefly concerned with juices or infusions of plants; that the pursuits of the Alexandrian alchemists were a subsequent development of chemical study, and that the notoriety of these may have caused the name of the art to be popularly associated with the ancient name of Egypt. [OED]

The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the." The art and the name were adopted by the Arabs from Alexandrians and thence returned to Europe via Spain. Alchemy was the "chemistry" of the Middle Ages and early modern times; since c. 1600 the word has been applied distinctively to the pursuit of the transmutation of baser metals into gold, which, along with the search for the universal solvent and the panacea, were the chief occupations of early chemistry.

alcohol: 1540s (early 15c. as alcofol), "fine powder produced by sublimation," from Medieval Latin alcohol "powdered ore of antimony," from Arabic al-kuhul "kohl," the fine metallic powder used to darken the eyelids, from kahala "to stain, paint." The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the."

algebra: 1550s, from Medieval Latin algebra, from Arabic al jabr ("in vulgar pronunciation, al-jebr" [Klein]) "reunion of broken parts," as in computation, used 9c. by Baghdad mathematician Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi as the title of his famous treatise on equations ("Kitab al-Jabr w’al-Muqabala" "Rules of Reintegration and Reduction"), which also introduced Arabic numerals to the West. The accent shifted 17c. from second syllable to first. The word was used in English 15c.-16c. to mean "bone-setting," probably from Arab medical men in Spain.

Contest Photo

I guess this Ryder truck is listed on the wonderful World Wide Web. Thank you for the photo, Yreka!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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