Episode 91: Traders and Traitors

During the Crusades, Christian forces and Muslim forces traded blows in the Holy Land.  At the same time, Europeans and Arabs traded goods through an extensive trading network that passed through the Near East and the Mediterranean. In this episode, we look at traders and Crusaders, and we explore the impact of these developments on the English language.


31 thoughts on “Episode 91: Traders and Traitors

    • Love the Blimey! It was an expression frequently used in Bluey and Curley the Aussie comic strip characters who were very popular during my childhood in WWII. And you use it in the same way. Did it begin as Bless me? How widespread is its use?

      • Denis, I believe “Blimey” is the eroded form of the curse “Blind me”, similar to “Damme eyes” or the vituperative “Blast your eyes” oaths.

  1. Another great episode, thanks Kevin. (In fact, I’m only half way through so far…)

    Just had to make a small correct: “cumin”, although it entered English in the Old English period, does not derive from Arabic, but rather predates the rise of Islam, so any derivation from Arabic is extremely unlikely.

    EtymOnline gives the etymology as:

    cumin (n.)
    Old English cymen, from Latin cuminum, from Greek kyminon, cognate with Hebrew kammon, Arabic kammun.

    And the OED as:

    Old English cymen, from Latin cuminum, from Greek kuminon, probably of Semitic origin and related to Hebrew kammōn and Arabic kammūn; superseded in Middle English by forms from Old French cumon, comin, also from Latin.

    Hence, I suspect it entered Greek from Ancient Greek contact with Phoenicians or Syrians (likely the former, given their reputations traders), and later entered Latin, then French, then English. It is thus plausible that Phoenician gave the word to Hebrew and Arabic, or the root is an even older proto-Semitic one, which all languages inherited. In either case though, the derivation is not from Arabic, but rather only cognate.

  2. Also, it seems that French “hasard” and English “hazard” do indeed descended from the Arabic word for dice (transliterated as “zahr”). This is further supported by the Spanish “azar”.

  3. Interested in your own pronunciation Kevin of hospitaller and also of shallot. I took a while to hear the latter. You emphasise the first syllable in shallot. We emphasise the last. But we emphasise the first syllable in Hospitaller

    • I didn’t really give much thought to the pronunciation of those words. I think my pronunciation of “shallot” is the standard American pronunciation. With respect to “Hospitaller,” I just pronounced it in a way that felt natural to me.

      • A random comment about words.
        You seemed to use the phrase “duly noted” in a sincere way, but I have only ever heard it (and used it) in a sarcastic way. Usually my parents say it when I’m complaining.
        It’s strange how words have different connotations to different people.

        • I didn’t intend the phrase “duly noted” in a sarcastic way. And I don’t really think of the term in that way. However, it is funny that the written language has such a difficult time with sarcasm – often failing to reflect a sarcastic intent and sometimes suggesting a meaning that wasn’t intended.

  4. During your discussion of the etymology of alcohol from an Arabic term for eye makeup (koh’l), you neglected to mention that “kohl” as a word is still in use today with its original meaning, both as a specific cosmetic made from grinding a mineral (stibnite) and used in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa – but also as a more generic term for an eyeliner-type pencil in the West.

    • Thanks for the note. I don’t use eye makeup, so I plead ignorance. I really didn’t know that the terms were used for modern make-up.

  5. As Alex mentioned above, “hazard” persists in French as “hasard”. It retains its original meaning of “chance”. In fact it’s a very common word in everyday speech, since it’s used in an expression homologous to “by chance” (au hasard pron. o-azar). And a game of chance is a jeux de hasard.

  6. The persian phrase “shah māt” is also widely used in Indian subcontinent out of the chess context. Which we mean ‘there is no way out for you.’ I was fascinated to hear that. Thanks.

    • The etymology of “checkmate” is well-attested. I like to use the Oxford English Dictionary, but etymonline.com contains the following entry as well:

      checkmate – from Old French ‘eschew mat’ … which … is from Arabic ‘shah mat’ (“the king died”) 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.”

      I also recommend “A History of English in Its Own Words” by Craig M. Carver. That book has a very good discussion about the influence of chess terms on Middle English – including ‘shah mat.’

  7. I don’t remember whether it was this episode or the last, but who had the history of Islam podcast? I can’t seem to find it.

    Glad I’ve caught up from episode 1! Thanks for all this.

  8. Kevin,
    If I heard it correctly, scallion comes from Ashkelon, but onion comes from union. It seems suspicious to me that the names of two so closely related roots would be unrelated and yet both end in ‘ion.’

    • The etymologies offered by Kevin are the most agreed-upon by linguists who look at a lot of primary sources and know what they’re talking about; additionally, -ion is a very common ending, especially in nouns inherited from Greek and to a certain extent Latin.

    • I can see where the similarities in meaning and pronunciation would lead you to suspect a deeper etymological connection between “scallion” and “onion.” However, the etymologies I presented are the same as those set forth in the Oxford English Dictionary. Though not necessarily infallible, I consider the OED to be the gold-standard of English etymology.

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  10. Thanks, once again, I learned a lot. My question is about the Arabic word ‘garbala’ – sifting through. Could this possibly be related to ‘garbage’?

    • “Garble” and “garbage” are not apparently cognate, but they may be somewhat related. The ultimate origin of “garbage” is unknown, but many sources think it is an Anglo-French word, and in early English it referred to the parts of an animal that were thrown away and not used in the preparation of a meal. It seems that the words “garbage” and “garble” were confused in late Middle English era producing the word “garbelage.” That may have contributed to the sense of “garbage” as general refuse or waste that is removed from the premises. So any connection between them comes from this more recent confusion.

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