top of page
  • Writer's pictureLiz Totton

What’s in A Word?

Shamal weather

The weather pattern of a “Shamal” in the Persian Gulf

The other day, I blogged about the “Haboub” that supposedly took place here in Abu Dhabi this past weekend, which turned out to have been a mere “Shamal” [شمال, north]. Having been fittingly corrected by a reader who is way more knowledgeable about the terrain than I, I began to think a lot about any given language: what concepts one may have no words for, and what concepts for which there are, perhaps, an overabundance of words. I think this is what I find most interesting about languages. They more directly mirror culture and evolve with culture unlike any other characteristic of society of which I can think. I am going to get to that inquiry in my next post.

I have embarked upon a really rudimentary linguistic mission. It should only take a post or two–don’t worry if you are not that interested in languages! Because I am not yet working and I consider bringing Abu Dhabi to all of you my job, I began my research today on some facets of the Arabic language that I find interesting, amusing or both. I studied Arabic in college rather unsuccessfully, and I plan to take another stab at it here. After all, the girls are picking it up here pretty effortlessly at school, maybe there’s hope for me?! So, I stumbled upon a article today, and I felt compelled to share. It’s entitled “Arizonans enraged at Muslim word for dust storm.” It is on language, Xenophobia in America and the weather phenomenon called the “Haboob” (for the record, I prefer to spell it “haboub”–that’s the puritan in me). I share it with you all because, whether you find the ignorance of a small percentage of Americans absurdly amusing or downright frightening, it’s alive and well and being used regularly for political purposes. Stories like this one (I’ll admit it’s old—2011) contributed to why I felt as though I needed a little break from my country.

Freedom Fries

Freedom fries. What? No, Freedom Toast?!

Whether we’re talking Freedom Fries or Soccer (not that I equate the two), lots of Americans (including those at the rickety helm) are in need of a language and history lesson. I am not going to give it, because I am not a linguist or a historian, but I’d like to point out a few loaner words that we also have from Arabic, which we might as well abandon if we banish “Haboub,” to exorcise our supposed enemy’s language out of our fine, oh so pure English. (Again, may I state that Haboub is SUCH a fun word and rightfully deserves to stay!) While we are at it, we might as well get rid of some less amusing ones like Algebra, Algorithm and a good many other words that start with “Al”–they are probably of some Semitic derivation. Shall we toss Alcohol, Arsenal, Assassin, Caliber, Candy, Carat, or Coffee? No, probably not. I bet those same Arizonans, who so loathe “Haboub,” are rather partial to those other Arabic words and don’t know even they are also from Arabic.

camel car

CAMEL CAR!! Things to come!

So, I guess this was just a random, thankfully brief socio-liguistic-political thought for the day of interest to IDK how many. My funnier linguistic assessment is on its way.

Honk if you like camels!

bottom of page