Posted by: episystechpubs | May 25, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Arabic Etymologies, Part II

Today I have part two of the Arabic Etymologies article for you. Etymologies supplied by the Online Etymology Dictionary.

checkmate: mid-14c., from Old French eschec mat (Modern French échec et mat), which (with Spanish jaque y mate, Italian scacco-matto) is from Arabic shah mat "the king died" (see check (n.1)), which according to Barnhart is a misinterpretation of Persian mat "be astonished" as mata "to die," mat "he is dead." Hence Persian shah mat, if it is the ultimate source of the word, would be literally "the king is left helpless, the king is stumped."

cipher: late 14c., "arithmetical symbol for zero," from Old French cifre "nought, zero," Medieval Latin cifra, with Spanish and Italian cifra, ultimately from Arabic sifr "zero," literally "empty, nothing," from safara "to be empty;" loan-translation of Sanskrit sunya-s "empty." The word came to Europe with Arabic numerals.

nadir: late 14c., in astronomical sense, from Medieval Latin nadir, from Arabic nazir "opposite to," in nazir as-samt, literally "opposite direction," from nazir "opposite" + as-samt "road, path" (see zenith). Transferred sense of "lowest point (of anything)" is first recorded 1793.

orange: c. 1300, of the fruit, from Old French orange, orenge (12c., Modern French orange), from Medieval Latin pomum de orenge, from Italian arancia, originally narancia (Venetian naranza), alteration of Arabic naranj, from Persian narang, from Sanskrit naranga-s "orange tree," of uncertain origin. Not used as a color word until 1540s.

Loss of initial n- probably due to confusion with definite article (as in une narange, una narancia), but perhaps influenced by French or "gold." The name of the town of Orange in France (see Orangemen) perhaps was deformed by the name of the fruit. Orange juice is attested from 1723.

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