30 Everyday English Words You Didn’t Know Came From Arabic

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About 80% of the words used in English are borrowed from other languages – primarily from Latin, French, Greek, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch – but as many as 350 foreign tongues in all contribute to English. And one that is surprisingly common is Arabic – considered one of the oldest still-living languages ever spoken, dating back the eighth century B.C. (Can you answer these real “Jeopardy!” questions about words?)

To compile a list of 30 common English words with Arabic origins, 24/7 Tempo reviewed several sources, including the Merriam Webster and Oxford English dictionaries, Wikipedia, and various etymology sites. The list, which is by no means comprehensive, is ordered alphabetically.

The influence Arabic has had on English is often indirect, with words being filtered over the years through Latin, Italian, Turkish, Urdu, and a few other languages, changing the spelling, pronunciation, and sometimes meaning along the way. (The sense of words changes even within English. Here are 36 old words we use today but with completely different meanings.)

Many of the English words in astronomy and other sciences are derived from Arabic — for instance, zenith, acme, chemistry, algorithm. But there are also many everyday English words most people would never think are actually descendants of Arabic – including most words beginning with “al,” which is the Arabic definite article.

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