13 words we borrowed from Arabic

13 words we borrowed from Arabic

Arabic Language is one of the five most spoken languages in the world, with some 400 million users.

It’s also one of the most ancient, varied and beautifully scripted languages in existence.

Its influence on Spanish since the time of the Moors is well known. However, what’s less well known is how many commonly used English words were from Arabic Language. In addition, Arabic words entered the English language through a number of ways.

Here are just thirteen words we borrowed from Arabic Language

  1. Alcohol

One of the most important words in the English language actually comes from the Arabic Language. al-kuhl, (the kohl) which is a form of eyeliner.

Because the cosmetic was made via an extraction process from a mineral. European chemists began to refer to anything involving extraction / distillation as alcohol.

And that’s how the “alcohol of wine” (i.e. the spirit you get from distilling wine) got its name.

  1. Algebra

From the Arabic al-jabr, which describes a reunion of broken parts. The use of the term came from a 9th century Arabic treatise on math.

The author’s name was al-Khwarizmi, which is the mathematical term algorithm.

  1. Artichoke

The classical Arabic word, al-harshafa. It is al-karshufa in Arabic-speaking Spain.

It is in French as artichaut, Italian as carciofo, Spanish as alcachofa, and English as artichoke.

  1. Candy

Qand refers to crystallised juice of sugar cane. It is where Americans derive their word candy.

It originally came from Sanksrit, and camr into Arabic Language via the Persian language.

  1. Coffee

Firstly, Arabia originally got coffee from eastern Africa and called it qahwah.

Then it went to Turkey – kahve.

Then the Italians – caffè.

Finally, it arrived in Britain as coffee.

  1. Cotton

This plant is originally native to India and Central/South America,

  1. Magazine

This word came from the Arabic makzin, which means storehouse.

We got it from the French (magasin, meaning shop). They got it from the Italians (magazzino), who got it from the Arabic.

  1. Mattress

Sleeping on cushions was actually an Arabic invention.

However, Were it not for Arabic matrah. However, the Europeans would never have adopted materacium / materatium (Latin). Also, they passed through Italian into English as mattress.

  1. Orange

Originally from South and East Asia, oranges were known in Sanskrit as naranga

Also, this became the Persian narang, which became the Arabic naranj.

Arabic traders brought oranges to Spain, which led to the Spanish naranja.

Then it went into old French as un norenge, then new French as une orenge

Finally, we took it from the French. 

  1. Safari

Safari is the Swahili word for an expedition, which is  so associated with African bush and game tourism.

However, that Swahili word came from the Arabic safar, which means journey.

  1. Sofa

The Arabic word suffa referred to a raised, carpeted platform on which people sat.

The word passed through the Turkish language to join English as sofa.

  1. Sugar

Arabic traders brought sugar to Western Europe, calling it sukkar (originally from teh Sanskrit sharkara).

And last but not least…

  1. Zero

Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced the concept of zero to the Europeans in the 13th century.

He grew up in North Africa, and learned the Arabic word sifr, which means empty or nothing.

He Latinised it to zephrum.

Because Roman numerals couldn’t express zero, he borrowed the number from Arabic Language.

Now, all our digits are known as Arabic numerals.

Alwasil Language Institute




General Aims

  1. To meet the needs of increasing numbers of non-Arabic speakers wishing to learn Arabic and to target students who apply for Arabic as a Foreign Language programs in international universities, as well as those who wish to stay in an Arab country for a period of time.
  2. Meet the needs of those who wish to learn Arabic for specific purposes, including academic, diplomatic, military, medical, media and other professions in the public and private sectors, who reside in the Sultanate or in other Arab countries. Courses will be tailored to suit student needs, thus enhancing their communicative and linguistic skills, and better meeting their needs and responding to their professional areas of interest.
  3. Provide Arabic-language courses to non-native speakers in a motivating linguistic environment that allows them to better communicate in their daily lives by learning not only the language but also about Arabic culture.
  4. Contribute to the spread of Arabic and highlight its place as a global language to strengthen connections between Arab and the other cultures.
  5. Organise courses that teach the four developmental skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) to internationally accredited standards, and sub-skills (vocabulary and basic grammar) to consolidate their knowledge.
  6. Provide programs for both learning and practice through modern interactive teaching methods and lively linguistic trends related to teaching Arabic to non-native speakers.

Specific Aims

  1. Contribute to the development of the local community and create new income by providing for students’ daily needs, including accommodation and transport etc., which will positively impact on the area.
  2. Hold courses and workshops for Arabic-language specialists living in the area and those in the local community who wish to teach Arabic to non-native speakers, and to support them to gain educational qualifications, thus increasing job opportunities.
  3. Introduce a new tourism option: educational tourism combined with cultural tourism.
  4. Enhance cultural connections and dialogue between native Arabic speakers and speakers of other languages through a ‘Language Partnership program’.

alwasil language inistitute

Al Wasil Language Institute aims to become a distinguished national and a regional centre for the instruction of Arabic. The institute will also contribute to the teaching of Arabic to academic, diplomatic, military, medical and media specialists, among others, who reside in the Sultanate or in other countries.


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