The Night of Power

The month of Ramadan is coming to a close, which means it’s time to celebrate the Night of Power, or لَيلة القَدر (laylat al-qadr, لَيلة meaning “night” and قَدر meaning “power”). Sometimes also called “the Night of Decree,” (قَدر can mean both “power” and “decree”), this is the night when, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad received the first revelation of what we know as the Qurʾān. It’s said that Muhammad was fond of retreating to the caves around Mecca to fast,  pray, and meditate, and it was during one of these sessions, in 610 CE, that he received this first revelation.

Because the Qurʾān was compiled in written form after Muhammad’s death, supposedly from disparate scraps of paper where listeners had transcribed this or that revelation, there was no way to determine the order of the revelations, and some revelations were grouped together in longer passages even though they’d probably been preached on separate occasions. The text is arranged in order of length, longest chapter to shortest, rather than chronology, and the initial lines that Muhammad received are the first five verses of the 96th chapter, سورة العلق (sūrat al-ʿalaq).

Arabs hold that the name “Qurʾān” (قُرآن) is taken from the first word of this first revelation (the imperative form of قَرَأَ, qaraʾa, which can mean “read” or “recite”), although modern scholars tend to think that it derives from the Syriac word qeryānā or “scripture reading.” The five-verse revelation is as follows (sorry if this formats badly, and when you read it please note that Qurʾānic Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic are not quite the same thing):

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
(iqraʾ bi-ismi rabbika alladhī khalaqa)
خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ
(khalaqa al-insāna min ʿalaqin)
اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ
(iqraʾ wa-rabbuka al-akramu)
الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ
(alladhī ʿallama bi-al-qalami)
عَلَّمَ الْإِنْسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ
(ʿallama al-insāna mā lam yaʿlam)

“Recite! In the name of your Lord, who created;
Created man from a clot.
Recite! That your Lord is the Most Generous;
Who taught by the pen;
Taught man that which he did not know.”

The specific night on which لَيلة القَدر should be observed is disputed. Sunnis hold that it happened on one of the odd-numbered nights in the last ten days of Ramadan, so the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, or 29th. Many observe it on the 27th. Many Shi’a, however, tend to observe it on the 23rd, meaning it comes right after a three-day observance of the assassination and death of ‘Ali (who is said to have been attacked on the 19th while at prayer and lingered until dying on the 21st).

As far as religious significance, the 97th chapter of the Qurʾān, سورة القَدر (sūrat al-qadr), which is only five verses long, explains:

إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ
(innā anzalnāhu fī laylati al-qadri)
وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ
(wa-mā adrāka mā laylatu al-qadri)
لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ
(laylatu al-qadri khayrun min alfi shahrin)
تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ مِنْ كُلِّ أَمْرٍ
(tanazzalu al-malāʾikatu wa-al-rūḥu fīhā bi-idhni rabbihim min kulli amrin)
سَلٰمٌ هِيَ حَتَّىٰ مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ
(salāmun hiya ḥattá maṭlaʿi al-fajri)

“Indeed, we have revealed it [meaning the Qurʾān] on the Night of Power;
And what will explain to you what the Night of Power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand [other] nights;
The angels and the Spirit descend in it, by the permission of their Lord, with every command;
Peace it is! Until the break of dawn.”

Observant Muslims will spend the night (or every night over the last ten days of the month, since the precise night is uncertain) in heavy prayer and may try to time their charitable giving to fall on that night, since as the verse says, the Night of Power is better than a thousand other nights (so any prayer or good deeds performed on that night are worth similar actions on a thousand regular nights). Those who are feeling especially pious may take a minor “retreat,” called اعتكاف‎ (iʿtikāf, “withdrawal”) into the mosque to fast and pray constantly for the final ten days of Ramadan (this ensures that they will be in prayer on the Night of Power); in order to complete the اعتكاف‎ they must remain in the mosque for the duration, leaving only to go to the bathroom or for an emergency either to themselves or a close relation.

Persian and Turkish


Money talks

“Money” in Arabic is نَقد (naqd, pl. نُقود nuqūd); the root verb means “to pay in cash.” “Currency” is عُملة (ʿumlah), from the root عَمِلَ (ʿamila), meaning “to work,” so عُملة also means (and originally meant?) “wages.” If you’re in a shop and want to ask about a price, stick to something simple: كَم هُوَ هٰذا؟ (kam huwa hādhā), “how much is this?” Definitely substitute the specific word for whatever you want to buy (for هٰذا) if you know it.

There are so many different currencies in circulation in the various Arab nations that this is easier to do as a table. Without trying to invent my own criteria for what is or is not an Arabic-speaking nation, I’m just going to go with the member states of the Arab League. This makes things simple and legitimate, and gives you a sense of the “Arab World” such as it is; the only two states that are not members or observers in the Arab League, despite Arabic being one of their official languages, are Chad and Israel. Also, we get to see how the names of these countries are written in Arabic.

It must be noted that while currency names repeat, these are all separate currencies; the Iraqi Dinar has as much to do with the Jordanian Dinar as the US and Canadian Dollars have to do with one another. Some common names to keep in mind:

  • Dinar (دينار) which derives from the Latin denarius
  • Dirham (درهم), from the Greek drachma
  • Rial or Riyal (ريال), from the Spanish real
  • Qirsh (قرش), from an Ottoman currency called the qurush
  • Lira (ليرة), from the Ottoman currency that took its name from the Venetian currency, which took its name from the Roman librae (from which the British Pound is also derived, so you may see “Pound” and “Lira” used interchangeably)
Country Main currency Sub currency (1/100 unless specified)
Algeria (الجَزائر, al-jazāʾir) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Bahrain (البَحرَين, al-baḥrayn) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) فِلس (fils, Fils)
Comoros (جُزُر القُمُر, juzur al-qumur) فرَنك قُمُري (frank qumurī, Franc) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Djibouti (جيبوتي, jībūtī) فرَنك (frank, Franc) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Egypt (مِصر, miṣr) جَنيه مِصري (janīh miṣrī or ganīh miṣrī, Pound) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)
Eritrea (إرِترِيا, iritriyā) (OBSERVER) ناكفا (nākfā, Nakfa) سَنت (sant, Cent)
Iraq (العِراق, al-ʿirāq) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) فِلس (fils, Fils) (1/1000)
Jordan (الأُردُن, al-urdun) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) (1/10)قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)فِلس (fils, Fils) (1/1000)
Kuwait (الكُوَيت, al-kuwayt) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) فِلس (fils, Fils) (1/1000)
Lebanon (لُبنان, lubnān) ليرة (lirah, Lira) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)
Libya (ليبيا, lībyā) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) (1/1000)
Mauritania (موريتانيا, mūrītānyā) أُوقية (uwqiyah, Ouguiya) خُمس (khums, Khoums) (1/5)
Morocco (المَغرِب, al-maghrib) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Oman (عُمان, ʿumān) رِيال (riyāl, Rial) بَيسة (baysah, Baisa) (1/1000)
Palestine (فِلَسطين, filasṭīn) N/A N/A
Qatar (قَطَر, qaṭar) رِيال (riyāl, Riyal) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham)
Saudi Arabia (السَعودية, al-saʿūdīyah) رِيال (riyāl, Riyal) هَلَلة (halalah, Halala)قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh) (1/20)
Somalia (الصومال, al-ṣūmāl) شِلِن (shillin, Shilling) سَنت (sant, Santi)
Sudan (السودان, al-sūdān) جُنَيه سوداني (junayh sūdānī, Pound) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)مِليم (milīm, Milim) 1/1000
>Syria (سورِيا, sūriyā) ليرة سورية (lirah sūrīyah, Lira) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)
Tunisia (تونِس, tūnis) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) مِليم (milīm, Milim) 1/1000
United Arab Emirates (الإمارات العَرَبية المُتَّحِدة, al-imārāt al-ʿarabīyah al-muttaḥidah) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) فِلس (fils, Fils)
Yemen (اليَمَن, al-yaman) رِيال (riyāl, Rial) فِلس (fils, Fils)

Make a name for yourself

Let’s look at the parts of the Arabic name. As we go through them we’ll put together a couple of sample names, those of the famous 12th century warlord Saladin and of the 9th century theologian Ibn Hanbal.

The word “name” is اِسم (ism), which specifically refers to someone’s given (personal) name but is used in any phrases where the word “name” would be needed. For example, you might want to ask:

“what is your name?” = ما اِسمُكَ (mā ismuka, masculine) or ما اِسمُكِ (mā ismuki, feminine)

NOTE: this is the Modern Standard Arabic way to phrase the question, which I can tell you from personal experience will get you blank stares in the Arab world as often as it will get you an actual answer. I am not a colloquial Arabic guy, but here are a few regional variations (in transliteration only since they’re primarily spoken):

  • Egypt: ismak eh? (masc) or ismik eh? (fem)
  • Gulf: shismak? (masc) or shismik? (fem)
  • Lebanese: shoo ismak? (masc) or shoo ismik? (fem)

“my name is _____” = _____ اِسمي (ismī _____)

So اِسم refers to the given name, which may be anything (Google “Arabic names” for lots of lists), but one fairly common type of name involves the construction _____ عَبد (ʿabd _____, masc) or _____ عَمة (ʿamat _____, fem), which means “servant of _____.” The blank is filled in either with الله (Allāh) or with any of the names of God, so even though the exact translation varies by the word choice the real translation is “servant of God.”

Saladin’s given name was يوسُف (Yūsuf), and Ibn Hanbal’s was أحمَد (Aḥmad).

The next part of the name is usually the نَسَب (nasab) or patronymic. This is where the person’s lineage is described, usually one (father) or two (grandfather) levels deep but potentially more in theory (rulers who wanted to trace their lineage back to a particularly important figure would string ancestor after ancestor until their got to the one they wanted to emphasize, which could make their names quite long). The phrase is _____ اِبن (ibn _____, “son of _____”) or _____ بِنت (bint _____, “daughter of _____”). Unless it’s written at the very beginning of a name (or a shortened name) or sentence, اِبن (ibn) is shortened to بِن (bin), and that is abbreviated in translation as “b.”

Saladin used only his father’s name, making his name with patronymic يوسُف بِن أيوب (Yūsuf b. Ayyūb). Ibn Hanbal went back to his grandfather, so his name (so far) is أحمَد بِن مُحَمَد بِن حَنبَل (Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Ḥanbal).

The last two parts are related and usually aren’t found together in the same name because they are both usually used as surnames. They are the لَقَب (laqab), which prior to modern times would have described some quality of the person or his/her work (the 8th-9th century caliph Harun al-Rashid was called “al-Rashid” or “the rightly guided”) but today is passed down like a surname, and the نِسبة (nisbah), which can also be passed down like a surname but is used to identify the person’s birthplace or tribal name (the infamous Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was from the Jordanian city of Zarqa).

Saladin had a laqab but did not typically use a nisbah. His laqab, which as far as I know he assumed for himself, is where we get the name “Saladin” from: صَلاح الدين (ṣalāḥ al-dīn, or “righteousness of the faith”). So his full name was صَلاح الدين يوسُف بِن أيوب (Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf b. Ayyūb). Ibn Hanbal used a nisbah, and his full name was أحمَد بِن مُحَمَد بِن حَنبَل ابو عَبد الله الشَيباني (Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Ḥanbal Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shaybānī). Shayban is a tribal name, so this identifies him as a member of/descendent from that tribe.

“But wait!” you say, maybe. What’s that ابو عَبد الله (abū ʿabd Allāh) business in the middle of Ibn Hanbal’s name? Well, when an Arab has a child, he or she is also entitled to use what’s called a كُنية (kunyah), which is a nickname that identifies the person as “father of” (أبو, abū) or “mother of” (أُم, umm) his or her eldest child (whose ism follows “abu” or “umm” as the case may be). Some folks incorporate this into their full name, others name use it as their given name or even as a pseudonym of sorts).

Ramadan Mubarak!

(at least for some folks)

This evening marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan or رَمَضان (ramaḍān) in the Americas and parts of Africa (elsewhere the start of the month will come a day later). Tradition holds that it was near the end of the month of Ramadan, on the “Night of Power” (لَيلة القَدر, laylat al-qadr) that Muhammad received his first revelation, the first of the series of revelations that would comprise the Qur’an (قُرآن, Qurʾān). The specific day of the Night of Power is up for debate, but almost everyone agrees that it was one of the last five odd-numbered nights of the month, with most going with the 27th as opposed to the 21st, 23rd, 25th, or 29th.

As with the beginning of all months in the Islamic calendar, the first day of the month is identified astronomically, by observance of the new moon. Visual confirmation is the only true method of determining the beginning of the month, but as astronomy has improved, so has our ability to determine in advance when the month will begin. Start days may vary by a day depending on region and observance, so Muslims in the Americas will begin the fast tomorrow, while Muslims in the rest of the world will start celebrating tomorrow evening in preparation for the first day of the fast to begin on Wednesday.

I assume most folks are familiar with the basics of Ramadan, the primary obligation of which is fasting and abstinence from worldly things (food and drink, but also tobacco and caffeine products, sexual relations, and harsh language or behavior) from sunrise to sunset. The holy month is said to begin after sunset on the day before the fast starts, since that evening is given over to celebration and preparation for the next day’s fast. It is common practice to eat two meals per day during Ramadan, a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, سُحور (suḥūr, from سَحَر, saḥar, meaning the period just before dawn), and a larger meal after sunset called iftar, إفطار (ifṭār, from the root فَطَرَ, faṭara, “to break” and having the same literal meaning as our “breakfast”). Suhoor is typically a small family meal, but iftar is often enjoyed communally, perhaps at a buffet; when I lived in the Gulf all the hotels would put out a great buffet spread after sundown every evening during Ramadan. Many Muslims break the fast by eating dates, as Muhammad is said to have done, after which they attend to the evening prayer and then enjoy the large evening meal.

The fast is required of all Muslims upon reaching puberty, so children are exempt as are the elderly, sick, and otherwise infirm. Women who are menstruating, pregnant, or breast-feeding (now I sound like a Pharma commercial) are also exempt from the fast, though they will often attempt to fast anyway (hopefully in consultation with a doctor), and it’s generally expected that any fast days they do miss should be made up after the month is over, whenever they are physically able (the same goes for those who are ill during Ramadan but later recover). Also long-distance travelers are exempt from the fast (with the expectation that they’ll make up the days they miss), but this was more an issue centuries ago, for traders on long caravan journeys, than it is today when air travel makes getting from one place to another so fast. Older children may actually try to perform the fast if they are able, because any completed fasts before they are old enough to be required to fast are essentially “banked” for them, so they’re covered if they are unable to fast in a particular year as adults.

Other Ramadan observances include lengthier prayers and Qur’an readings; many Muslims will try to read through the entire Qur’an by the end of the month. Charitable giving is also usually increased, since it is believed that good deeds performed during Ramadan count more than good deeds performed at other times of the year. Decorations may be hung in homes and public places, not unlike what we do around Christmas, but these are typically meant for children, to make the month enjoyable for them. The overall intent of the Ramadan observance is to turn one’s attention away from the things of this world and focus on the spiritual.

As far as Ramadan greetings are concerned, the two I’d stick with are رَمَضان مُبارَك (ramaḍān mubārak), “Blessed Ramadan!” and رَمَضان كَريم (ramaḍān karīm), “Generous Ramadan!”

Also, Ramadan greetings in Persian and Turkish (they’re surprisingly almost exactly the same)

Verb conjugation II: “to be”

The Arabic verb “to be” is كانَ (kāna), which makes it a “hollow verb” (the second letter is a vowel, not a consonant). These have a slightly irregular conjugation, where the long vowel may disappear in the past tense:

  • “I was” = كُنتُ (kuntu)
  • “you (m, sing.) were” = كُنتَ (kunta)
  • “you (f, sing.) were” = كُنتِ (kunti)
  • “he was” = كانَ (kāna)
  • “she was” = كانًت (kānat)
  • “you (dual) were” = كُنتُما (kuntumā)
  • “they (m, dual) were” = كُنا (kunā)
  • “they (f, dual) were” = كُنتا (kuntā)
  • “we were” = كُنّا (kunnā)
  • “you (m, pl.) were” = كُنتُم (kuntum)
  • “you (f, pl.) were” = كُنتُنَّ (kuntunna)
  • “they (m) were” = كانوا (kānū)
  • “they (f) were” = كُنَّ (kunna)

In the present tense the verb is usually omitted. Simple subject-predicate sentences are identified when the subject and the predicate fail to agree on definite-indefinite, like “the teacher is a man”: المُدَرِّس رَجُلٌ (al-mudarris rajulun). An indefinite noun/adjective does not take the definite marker ال, and its final short vowel is doubled (though this has the effect of adding a final “-n” sound (be aware that when speaking the language these final short vowels and endings usually just disappear. If the subject and the predicate are both definite, then the appropriate (in terms of gender/number) third person pronoun may be inserted between them to make it clear that this is a sentence, so “the teacher is that man”: المُدَرِّس ذٰلِك الرَجُلُ (al-mudarris dhālik al-rajul).

HOWEVER, we should know the present tense form of كانَ for other reasons, so let’s conjugate it:

  • “I am” = أكونُ (akūnu)
  • “you (m, sing.) are” = تَكونُ (takūnu)
  • “you (f, sing.) are” = تَكونينَ (takūnīna)
  • “he is” = يَكونُ (yakūnu)
  • “she is” = تَكونُ (takūnu)
  • “you (dual) are” = تَكونانِ (takūnāni)
  • “they (m, dual) are” = يَكونانِ (yakūnāni)
  • “they (f, dual) are” = تَكونانِ (takūnāni)
  • “we are” = نَكونُ (nakūnu)
  • “you (m, pl.) are” = تَكونونَ (takūnūna)
  • “you (f, pl.) are” = تَكُنَّ (takunna)
  • “they (m) are” = يَكونونَ (yakūnūna)
  • “they (f) are” = يَكُنَّ (yakunna)

One reason it’s good to know the present tense of كانَ is because negating the past tense in Arabic, paradoxically, requires using the present tense form of the verb, in the “jussive” mood. You can compare the conjugation below with the one above to see the differences in the jussive as compared with the simple present tense. Preceding the verb is the negative particle لَم (lam):

  • “I was not” = لَم أكُن (lam akun)
  • “you (m, sing.) were not” = لَم تَكُن (lam takun)
  • “you (f, sing.) were not” = لَم تَكوني (lam takūnī)
  • “he was not” = لَم يَكُن (lam yakun)
  • “she was not” = لَم تَكُن (lam takun)
  • “you (dual) were not” = لَم تَكونا (lam takūnā)
  • “they (m, dual) were not” = لَم يَكونا (lam yakūnā)
  • “they (f, dual) were not” = لَم تَكونا (lam takūnā)
  • “we were not” = لَم نَكُن (lam nakun)
  • “you (m, pl.) were not” = لَم تَكونوا (lam takūnū)
  • “you (f, pl.) were not” = لَم تَكُنَّ (lam takunna)
  • “they (m) were not” = لَم يَكونوا (lam yakūnū)
  • “they (f) were not” = لَم يَكُنَّ (lam yakunna)

Negating the present tense of كانَ requires a completely irregular form:

  • “I am not” = لَستُ (lastu)
  • “you (m, sing.) are not” = لَستَ (lasta)
  • “you (f, sing.) are not” = لَستِ (lasti)
  • “he is not” = لَيسَ (laysa)
  • “she is not” = لَيسَت (laysat)
  • “you (dual) are not” = لَستُما (lastumā)
  • “they (m, dual) are not” = لَيسا (laysā)
  • “they (f, dual) are not” = لَيسَتا (laysatā)
  • “we are not” = لَسنا (lasnā)
  • “you (m, pl.) are not” = لَستُم (lastum)
  • “you (f, pl.) are not” = لَستُنَّ (lastunna)
  • “they (m) are not” = لَيسوا (laysū)
  • “they (f) are not” = لَسنَ (lasna)

Verb conjugation I: Simple past tense

We keep running up against the fact that it’s difficult to give examples of vocabulary without using grammar elements that I haven’t introduced, so I’m going to roll out verb conjugations over a series of posts. Doing this across three languages, four if you count the English I’m trying to explain it in, is complicated by the fact that grammarians give different names to the same concepts in different languages, and conversely the same term might mean different things in each language.

First we look at simple past tense (“did”), which is called the “perfect” tense in my Arabic grammar book although it does not correspond to the English perfect tense (“had done”). We’re using the typical “example” verb in Arabic learning, فَعَلَ (faʿala, “to do”). These all translate as “I did,” you did,” “he/she did,” etc. Be aware that when referring to mixed gender groups, the masculine form is used no matter if the group is evenly matched by gender or lopsided; if there’s one male in the group then the group is masculine.

  • First person, singular: فَعَلتُ (faʿaltu)
  • Second person, singular (masculine): فَعَلتَ (faʿalta)
  • Second person, singular (feminine): فَعَلتِ (faʿalti)
  • Third person, singular (masculine): فَعَلَ (faʿala)
  • Third person, singular (feminine): فَعَلَت (faʿalat)
  • Second person, dual (masculine/feminine): فَعَلتُما (faʿaltumā)
  • Third person, dual (masculine): فَعَلا (faʿalā)
  • Third person, dual (feminine): فَعَلَتا (faʿalatā)
  • First person, plural: فَعَلنا (faʿalnā)
  • Second person, plural (masculine): فَعَلتُم (faʿaltum)
  • Second person, plural (feminine): فَعَلتُنَّ (faʿaltunna)
  • Third person, plural (masculine): فَعَلوا (faʿalū)
  • Third person, plural (feminine): فَعَلنَ (faʿalna)

The passive voice (“is done” rather than “does”) is formed by changing the short vowels on the first two letters of the root, so instead of فَعَلَ (faʿala), you’d say فُعِلَ (fuʿila), but all the number/person endings stay the same. This is especially fun when reading a text without short vowel markings, so you could in theory be reading a verb as active when it’s actually passive.

I won’t go into negating past tense right now, because to negate past tense in Arabic you actually need to use the present tense of the verb. That will come later.

More on “gawhar” and “jawhar”

…can be found over at my Persian blog.

I would add that, while Arabic’s run as the official language of government and history-writing was relatively short in Iraq and points east, it had a very long run in North Africa, Egypt, and the Levant (and Arabia as well, but after the caliphal capital was moved from Medina to Damascus in 661 by Caliph Muʿāwiyah I, Arabia was largely ruled, “protected” under the usual regal parlance, by outside powers until the end of World War I). It wasn’t until the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517 that the official language of Egypt and Syria became something other than Arabic (by then Turkish, as the Ottomans were moving from Persian to their native Turkish for official purposes), and Arabic made a resurgence under the 19th century Ottoman “governor” (who ruled Egypt autonomously in every practical way) Muhammad Ali Pasha, though Muhammad Ali himself, ethnically Albanian, maintained Turkish as the official language.

“Jawhar” or, “Dzhokhar,” and its Persian-Arab roots

Read the background to this post over at my Persian blog. To sum up, “Dzhokhar” is a transliteration of an Arabic word, جَوهَر (jawhar), that was loaned from Arabic to Persian after first being loaned from Persian to Arabic. The original Persian word is gawhar, meaning “jewel” or “essence.” At some point (I think pre-Islam, because unless I’m wrong the word appears in pre-Islamic Arab poetry, although those were only compiled in written form post-Islam so who knows?) Arabs must have picked up this word from the Persians, but changed the first consonant to a “j” sound since there’s no hard “g” sound in Arabic (the Egyptian dialect pronounces the letter jeem, which in standard Arabic and most dialects has a “j” sound, like a hard “g,” and in Gulf dialect the “qaf” can sound like a compromise between “q” and “g,” but there’s no hard “g” in the formal tongue). This is interesting, because Arabic generally changes foreign hard “g” sounds into the “gh” consonant (Pythagoras = فيثاغورَس (fīthāghūras; there’s no “p” sound either, so that becomes an “f” sound!), but for whatever reason in this case it became a “j” sound. Later, presumably after the Arab armies had conquered Iran and destroyed the Persian Empire, جَوهَر was incorporated into Persian as a new loanword, but with the emphasis on the meaning of “essence” since they were still using gawhar to mean “jewel.”

جَوهَر means “essence,” “nature,” “content,” “substance,” “matter,” or “jewel.” It also forms a rare quadriliteral (four-letter) Arabic root; these usually come about through loanwords, and in this case جَوهَرَ (jawhara) means “to become substance.” The abstract form جَوهَري (jawharī) means “substantial,” “essential,” or the more concrete “jeweler,” which can also be translated as جَوهَرجي (jawharjī), or jawhar plus the Turkish ending “-ji,” which is akin to the “-er” ending in English and here signifies occupation. Speaking of Turkish, the passive participle of جَوهَرَ, which is مُجَوهَر (mujawhar), means “bejeweled” in Arabic but was borrowed by Turkish to mean “jewel.”

UPDATE: More here, and here.

Because it’s cold season

This enterprise is “word a day” in an aspirational sense only, but if you want to know what’s causing me grief just now…

عِندي رَشْح (ʿindī rashḥ) means “I have a cold”

Other variations:

لَدَيكَ رَشْح (ladayka rashḥ) “You (masculine) have a cold”

عِندَكِ بَرْد (ʿindaki bard) “You (feminine) have a cold”

لَدَيهُ بَرْد (ladayhu bard) “He has a cold”

عِندَها زُكام (ʿindahā zukām) “She has a cold”

لَدَينا زُكام (ladaynā zukām) “We have a cold”

عِندَكُم رَشْح (ʿindakum rashḥ) “You (plural, all male or mixed) have a cold”

لَدَيكُنَّ بَرْد (ladaykunna bard) “You (plural, all female) have a cold”

عِندَهُم زُكام (ʿindahum zukām) “They (all male or mixed) have a cold”

لَدَيهُنَّ رَشْح (ladayhunna rashḥ) “They (all female) have a cold”

عِندَكُما بَرْد (ʿindakumā bard) “You (dual) have a cold”

لَدَيهُما زُكام (ladayhumā zukām) “They (dual) have a cold”

Time for a lesson, unfortunately. Arabic essentially lacks a verb of possession. Constructs like “I have X” are created with a phrase that literally translates as “To me (or near me) is (belongs) X” (there’s also no verb for “is,” but we’ll get to that in a couple of days). There are several prepositions that can accomplish this: one, مَع (maʿ), really means “with” and doesn’t apply to something more abstract like “having” a cold, and another, لِ (li, which attaches to the word that comes after it), mainly is used for personal relationships, abstract concepts, and to express “belonging to” as intention rather than fact (something may “belong to me” yet I may not actually possess it). The two that I’ve used above are عِنْد (ʿind) and لَدى (ladá, becomes laday when attached to a pronoun), to which I’ve added each of the pronoun suffixes above (possessive/objective pronouns are suffixes in Arabic). These are somewhat synonymous but ladá is less common and means only something that is on or about one’s person, whereas ʿind signifies possession whether the thing is present or not.

As far as the options for “cold” are concerned, rashḥ comes from a verb that can mean “to leak, sweat, secrete,” so its connection to a cold should be clear if a little gross. Bard comes from the verb meaning “to be or become cold,” so it’s a full translation of the English but also retains the ambiguity of our word “cold.” Zukām comes from the passive verb (more on those at a future date) زُكِمَ (zukima), which means “to catch a cold,” so it’s the most literally accurate of the three possibilities but also the one you’re least likely to encounter.

Also, for those who didn’t get their shots this year, “flu” is إنْفْلُوِنْزا (influwinzā).

Also also, yes, Arabic has a special dual form. Let’s ignore it for now.

فعل = “to do”

Today’s word is فَعَلَ (faʿala, “to do”), and while it’s not a word you’re likely to encounter much in everyday speech, it is incredibly important if you want to study Arabic, because it serves as the instructional case by which grammatical forms are taught. So, for example, when you learn how to form the active participle of a form I verb, you learn the general form as فاعِل (fāʿil, “the doer”) before you start forming particular active participles from particular verbs.


“She did something.” = فَعَلَتْ شيءً (faʿalat shayʾan)

Here we see the accusative indefinite form again, with the “fathatan” over the ending of the object (shayʾ, “thing”; the meaning of “something” or “a thing” is given by the indefinite marker), and we also see the third person singular feminine past tense form of the verb, adding a ت or “-t” to the end of the third person masculine singular past tense.

So with that as preface, here are the 10 forms of the Arabic verb with the additional meanings imparted by each form.

Form I فَعَلَ faʿala, “to do” root meaning
Form II فَعَّلَ faʿʿala, “to cause (someone) to do” intensive or causative
Form III فاعَلَ fāʿala, “to do with (someone) associative; doing with someone
Form IV أفْعَلَ afʿala, “to make (someone) do” causative (but more intense than form II causative)
Form V تَفَعَّلَ tafaʿʿala, “to cause (myself) to do” reflexive of form II
Form VI تَفاعَلَ tafāʿala, “to do together” reflexive of form III
Form VII اِنْفَعَلَ infaʿala, “to be done” reflexive or passive of form I
Form VIII اِفْتَعَلَ iftaʿala, “to do myself” reflexive of form I or special case
Form IX اِفْعَلَّ ifʿalla, “to become” rarely found, usually in the case of colors (“to become [color]”)
Form X اِسْتَفْعَلَ istafʿala, “to consider it done” or “to seek to have it done” considerative or requestive of form I

There are five additional forms that are virtually never encountered in modern Arabic and are hardly ever encountered even in classical/historical Arabic texts. We will ignore them.