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Interesting Etymologies 41 : Persian

"Hello again Word Lovers!"

In this show we are going to look at words that have merged from Persian. This is a relative mystery to our host Charly, who knows no Farsi (the modern equivalent language) but it seems like an interesting branch to explore, especially as it is the root of many modern Arab words.

Much like English, Persian has three periods, Old Persian, Middle Persian and New Persian (which is spoken today) and we are talking about empires that rose 400 years B.C.

Persia : Is from Greek and Latin, meaning people of Persis, which is more or less modern day Iran. The Achaemenid empire (First Persian empire) was the greatest the world had known in terms of area, extending at its greatest reach from the Balkans to the Indus valley. It had a successful central administration system and is probably responsible for providing early Persian words such as : Seraglio (the harem apartments), Pasha (High ranking political or military position), Dervish (An Islamic order that choses material poverty and shows devotion through an energetic dance)

We have explored Persian words that have merged via other languages previously:

Lemon: The route is from lymon - to Old French limon - via Italy from Arabic - laimun - from Persian - limun. Believed to have come from India in 9th or 10th centuries and originally believed to be an Austronesian word with evidence of the Balinese limo and Malay limaw but this has some serious cross over with lime. Charly explores the murky etymology of Orange and Lemon in IE7.2, which both seem to have Dravidic roots (see IE38).

Serendipity: As discovered in the tales of the Princes of Serendip in IE28

Mummy: The process of embalming the dead in this way is often associated with Egypt but there is evidence that the Arabic root can be traced back to Persian, as discussed in IE37 Mythical Beasts

Kaftan: A word whose etymology is hotly disputed between Turkish and Persian was looked at in IE31.

Fight : In IE29 we even explore the roots of this word emanating from Persian as well.

So after those previous investigations here are some Persian words for us to discover:

Saffron: The spice derived from the Crocus Sativus flower. (A very expensive commodity primarily because since only a small part of the flower is used it takes 75,000 plants to produce one pound of spice. Furthermore, the fact harvesting must be done by hand adds to the cost)

The word comes through Medieval Latin - Safranum from Persian - Zarpa meaning gold string.

Zircon: A mineral from the nesocilicates group and the source of the metal zirconium.

The word comes through German - Zirkon from Arabic Zarqūn/Zarkun from Persian - Zargun meaning gold coloured and possibly as far back as Syriac - Zargon.

The well worn path from Persian to Arabic is immense, and perhaps traversed with good footwear:

Sandal from Old French sandale and directly from Medieval Latin sandalum, from Latin sandalium "a slipper, sandal," from Greek sandalion, diminutive of sandalon "a sandal," also "a flatfish," a word of unknown origin, probably from Persian.

Vizier: Could be from wazir in Arabic - one who bears/carriers, porter or Middle Persian vichir which means judge.

Tulip: From dulband in Persian.

The idea of using the word "china" to describe plates and crockery also emerges from Persian.

Then there is a fascinating set of words that are always assumed to be of Indian or far eastern origin that have actually made the journey east from Persia. Hold on to your hats because this is going to take you by surprise:

Tandoori: (Yes, we know, if you were asked to come up with the most Indian word you could think of this would be on your Family Fortunes top five, but it is in fact Persian)

tannur - Turkish pronunciation of Persian oven/portable furnace + Persian suffix i

Khaki: Literally Persian for Earth/Dust. Khaki is Urdu for dusty and khak is dust from the Persian.

Samosa: (Another shock to the Indian food lover's vocabulary) Persian - sambusa meaning folded over.

Sitar: (At this point you are now doubting everything you though you knew) The archetypal three stringed instrument is in fact Persian in origin. sih/she - Old Persian for three and tar - string.

And not as American as apple pie is:

Seersucker: A tailoring style of thin stripes, also known as Railroad stripe - from Hindi sirsakar which is a corruption of the Persian shir o shakkar which means striped cloth. This literally means milk and sugar - shir to Sanskrit ksiram - milk and shakar Sanskrit sarkara for gravel, grit or sugar.

Tapestry: Persian taftan related to the word for turning or twisting - tabidan.

Musk: From Late Latin muscus, late Greek moschos from Middle Persian musk meaning, wait for it...testicle, possibly diminutive of mouse.

Cassock: Long garment worn by Priests, from Persian kazhaghand to mean a padded jacket. Kazh is silk and aaghand means stuffed. This is an alternative to that proposed in IE31 Turkic

The casualties continue as we discover a quintessentially Russian word is in fact Persian:

Caviar: Khaviyar - Khaya - egg or egg bearing and lilak variant of nilak - blue-ish from nil - indigo

One final word for this exploration:

Gul: Persian for Rose. Used in Heraldry for red but this is a false etymology. Look out for the instalment on Heraldry coming soon.

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

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So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

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