Persian Words Every American Is Using Casually
The interrelation of Farsi and English is not a brand-new topic in the realm of linguistics. Yet there are many people out there using borrowed terms not even knowing where they came from. However, this is an article to end all the unknown and help you find the origin of several commonly used Farsi words in English.
Today, two ends of this interrelationship—Iran, and the U.S—may politically seem like quarreling lands. But the standard verbal communication in each region implies that there must be something intimate between them—something that doesn’t sound like political conflicts at all!
Noam Chomsky once stated, “language is a weapon of politicians, but the language is a weapon in much of human affairs.” And the hidden relationship between Farsi and English seems to be a clue to prove his idea.
Farsi, spoken by 1.5% of the planet Earth, had contributed a lot to different verbal communications. The impact of Farsi is visible to the naked eye and you could tell at a glance that it has influenced many dictionaries. And the American dictionaries haven’t been an exception to that.
You Are Speaking Farsi Even Though You're an American
Check this sentence: “a father loves his daughter as well as his mother and brother.” Does it sound like an unusual statement? Probably not. But what if someone told you 33.33% of this speech is Farsi? Would you still consider it a not-so-unusual one?
/ˈfɑːðər/, /ˈdɔːtər/, /ˈmʌðər/, and /ˈbrʌðər/ are just some examples of Persian-rooted terms that you’re using every day. But, most noteworthy, you’re using them with almost no change in the original pronunciations. In fact, a Farsi speaker would pronounce them as /pedær/, /dokhtær/, /mɑːdær/, and /bærɑːdær/. So, if you’d show up in Iran and used the terms with your American accent, everyone would effortlessly understand.
Nevertheless, these four typical terms are not the only badges of the interrelation of Farsi and English. By contrast, there are so many lexical signs showing the bond between these languages. Below, therefore, you can find a list of most frequently used Farsi words in contemporary English.
Iranians literally handed a lemon to the globe nearly 600 years ago—but in a good way! Not only did they introduce a brand-new fruit but they also offered a free name for it. Arabs of the time where the first foreigners to get familiarized with the Sanskrit term Limo /lɪːmʊ̈/. However, they preferred to pronounce it as ‘Laimon’ /læɪmʊ̈n/ -- slightly similar to the combination of the English terms ‘lay’ and ‘moon.’
Nevertheless, the European businesspeople were introduced to the so-called “laimon” through Arabs and helped to spread it internationally. So, as a result, you can see the Farsi root for lemon, mixed with some Arabic flavor, and European curiosity has led to the current term for this fruit.
Did Popeye the Sailor know that his power is coming from a Persian vegetable? Yes, you read it right. Persian vegetable was the name that ancient Chinese people used for this valuable plant. In fact, no one knows how this plant found its way into India and then China. But one thing is for sure, the roots are placed in Iran.
The pronunciation of this word in Farsi is ‘esfenaj’ /'əsfənɑː dʒ /. So, if you exclude the added [p] sound in the English word, the words sound pretty much the same in both languages.
The Italians were using the term ‘pistacchio’ 1,500 years ago. So, it’s one of the oldest Farsi terms that has spread around Europe. But the pronunciation, obviously, has changed throughout the time. Indeed, Iranians pronounce it as ‘pesteh’ /pɛstɛ/.
Although Americans start using this term widely during the 1880s, they are now the second biggest pistachio producer in the world—right after Iran. So, not only did they liked the Farsi term, but they also followed in Iranian cultivators’ footsteps.
Persians decrypted the formula of producing honey without using the bee when Alexander the Great visited India. Right after this major discovery, they started the mass production in the territory of Persia where the term ‘shakar’ /ʃəkær/ appeared to be its name.
But when Arabs overcame the Iranians in 651, the secret formula of ‘shakar’ got out of the box and spread all over the world. Arabs called it ‘Sokar’ /sɔk’kær/ and sold it to the European traders of the time. The English term sugar, however, is derived from Middle French ‘sucre,’ and Old French ‘çucre’ /ˈt͡sy.krə/.
Caravan & Van
Back when there were no police officers around, people had to provide security by themselves. That’s why Persians used to travel as groups called ‘Karwan’ /Kɑːɹwɑːn/. Nowadays, the usage of this word has changed enormously and even Iranian people use it as a term to indicate a specific type of car—a recreational vehicle.
Pyjamas or Pajamas
You may invite your friends for a PJs party this weekend not knowing the abbreviated word is rooted in Farsi. Yes, Pyjamas—the symbols of comfort—were used by Iranian people before Indians introduced them to the world. In fact, the root word in Farsi ‘pa-ja-meh’ /pɑːɪ- dʒ ɑːməh/ is a combination of two terms ‘pa’ /pɑːɪ/ meaning leg, and ‘ja-meh’ / dʒ ɑːməh/ an equivalent for clothes.
So, Pyjamas were pieces of clothes for our legs—though the usage has changed a bit recently.
Did you know that Persians created paradise? Well, technically God built it to host his most valuable people in the afterlife. But the term “paradeaza” /pɑɹɑ'-dæ'əzɑː/ was first used in Median language—which is a sort of old Iranian dialect. “para” /pɑɹɑ'/ refers to huge gardens, and the term “deaza” /dæ'əzɑː/ signifies ‘walls.’ So, the initial meaning of paradise was a huge garden covered with walls.’
However, since the conceptualization of heaven always included breathtaking sceneries related to huge gardens, the term became a proper equivalent for it.
“Not forever does the bulbul sing in balmy shades of bowers…” says Khushwant Singh. But Iranians believe this bird is “hezar avaz,” meaning it has thousands of songs to sing. /həzɑːɹ-ɑːvɑːz/ was a favorite bird in Farsi literature and there are thousands of poems devoted to its sound and bodily beauty. Even today, this bird is called ‘bulbul’ /bɔl-bɔl/ in Iran.
Bazaar & Pasar
Next time you’re talking about the bazaar sale, mind that you’re using a Persian term. ‘Bazar’ /bɑːzɑːɹ/ is a word that is rooted in the term ‘baha-chaar’ /bæhaː-chɑːɹ/ which means a place for getting quotes. In ancient Persia, there were lots of bazaars full of farmers and tradesmen selling goods.
French people took a Farsi word, changed it a bit, and brought it back. The root word for the kiosk is a Farsi term pronounced as ‘kushk’ /kʊ̈ʃk/, meaning a small pavilion open on some sides, and placed in a public area.
The actual word was given out to the European by Turkish people. But the transformed term ‘kiosk’ came back to Farsi later. Nowadays, Persians use the word ‘bad-ge’ /bɑːd-dʒ/ to refer to kiosks.
When the movie was out, lots of people changed their minds about the harmless-looking mummies. However, we’re not here to discuss the social aspects of the movie. We’re here to learn that mummy is a term rooted in Farsi word ‘Mum’ /mʊ̈m/ meaning wax. Do you need me to remind you this is the name for the substance used to embalm the corpses? I don’t think so…
Pashm & Pashmina
Last but not least sign of the interrelation of Farsi and English is a luxury piece of cloth! Even though some thought the name for this material is Kashmir, the actual name is ‘Pashmineh’ [pashm = wool] /pæʃmɪ̈nɛ/ [made of wool]. Europeans found this textile in Kashmir and brought it to their lands as a precious piece of cloth. And even now, this material is still a luxury fabric in most regions—due to its troublesome production procedure.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Mohsen Baqery