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In this etymological treasury of words, I found the chapter ‘How Nations Insult Each Other’ the most amusing
Word For Word Stories Behind Everyday Words We Use
By Khaled Ahmed
Oxford University Press, Karachi | Pages: 383 | Rs. 895

Soon after the death of Prophet Mohammed, Muslim armies overran North Africa into Spain and Turkey in the West and across a lot of Asia in the East. With them they carried not only the message of their Prophet but also their mother-tongue, Arabic. It infiltrated into the vocabularies of the countries they conquered and new words were born. Arabs produced many astronomers: so names of many stars are derived from Arabic. They also ruled the seas around the countries they conquered, hence words connected with maritime activities, wind movements and weather, mausem, for example, from which monsoon is derived. The English word admiral is derived from the Arabic Ameer-ul-Bahr—ruler of the seas.

In this etymological treasury of words collected by Lahore scholar Khaled Ahmed, I found the chapter ‘How Nations Insult Each Other’ the most amusing. Arabs looked down on other races. For Persians, they used the word ajain, which means dumb. The Persians retaliated by calling Arabs Tazi, meaning horse. Greeks called non-Greek speakers barbarous. Romans brought Bulgarian slaves to their city and noted that they indulged a lot in sodomy. The English word bugger was born. The English referred to the French as frogs and condoms as French letters and syphilis as French pox. The French retaliated by calling condoms as capote Anglais. The Dutch were at the receiving end of many English words: Dutch courage for cowardice, Double Dutch for something incomprehensible, Dutch widow for a prostitute. And so on: liaisons between different languages has produced thousands of lovable bastards.

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