Arabs began arriving in what is now Spain in 711, and have had a presence in the country ever since. It is no surprise then, that about 4000 words or 8% of the Spanish language are of Arabic origin. In fact, it is said that most Spanish words that start with “al” are Arabic-derived.
Today, Latin America has the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East. There is estimated to be 17-30 million Arab-Latinxs in Latin America and celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Shakira, and Majida Issa are of Arab (Lebanese) descent. We thought it fitting to take a look at some of the many words in Spanish with roots in Arabic.
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A pillow is an essential part of a good night’s rest. As we know, almohada means “pillow” in Spanish. It is derived from the Arabi word al–makhada, which became the Andalusi-Arabic al–muhadda.
Not only is loco part of the lyrics of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain,” but it’s also a word with Arabic roots. It comes from the Arabic lauqa, and Andalusi-Arabic lawqa, which mean “fool.”
The origin of the word mascara hasn’t been set in stone. It is similar to the Spanish máscara and the Italian maschera, both meaning mask. But it is also said to be linked to the Arabic word maskharah, which means “buffoon.” In fact, in Algeria, there is both a city and a province called Mascara.
When we say ojalá in Spanish, we are saying “hopefully.” The word comes from the Arabic law sha’a ‘Allah which means “God willing.” Who knew we were using so many words from the Arabic language? How cool!
Did you ever notice that we spell alcohol the same way in both English and Spanish (you can find a bunch of those words, called interlingual homographs here)? The word is derived from the Arabic al–kuhul/al–kuhl/al–kohl, which meant kohl eye makeup and other powders. Until the 18th-century, alcohol referred to makeup products and not liquids that can get you drunk. There are additional theories linking the word alcohol to the words “ghoul”, “spirits,” and other such things.
Fulano means “so-and-so” in English. Remember the band Fulanito? Who knew that the word is Arabic in origin? It’s from the word fulan (fulana for females), which also means “whomever” or “anyone.”
We know azucar will always be Celia Cruz’s word, but the Spanish term for “sugar” actually has an Arabic origin. It comes from the word as–sukkar.
We throw zanahorias or carrots into a lot of Latin American food, including Salvadorian curtido, arroz con pollo, and several different hot sauces. Did you know that the word zanahoria is Arabic in origin? It is borrowed from the Andalusian Arabic safunnárya.
Aceite + Aceituna
This following one is a two-for-one language lesson. Both Spanish words aceite (oil) and aceituna (olive) are derived from the Arabic language. Aceituna comes from the Arabic az-zaytūna, while aceite is linked to the Arabic word zayt, meaning “oil, edible or for combustion.”
It’s important to point out when a culture owes some of their culture, history, and identity to another culture. Like the very Spanish word olé, used to show excitement, strong agreement, surprise, encouragement, approval, or as an oath. This term too has ties to Arabic; it comes from the word Allah and was yelled out by the Moors when a dancer was dancing as a vessel through which God was showing his glory.
You probably didn’t know that the word adobe originates from the Arabic language. Traceable back to the Middle Egyptian language, it then became the Arabic aṭ-ṭawbu/aṭ-ṭūbu, with the article al- attached to the word. This then morphed into the Old Spanish language adobe, and the rest is history.
Azul is such a pretty word to describe the word blue. It’s yet another term that we use because of the Moors who lived in Spain. Azul is derived from the Arabic word lāzuward, which means “lapis lazuli.” As you may know, lapis lazuli is a deep blue metamorphic rock, which is used for several things, including as a gemstone in jewelry.
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Close your eyes and imagine a Latinx world without rice. Scary, isn’t it? We have China to thank for the domestication of rice and the Moors of North Africa for the word arroz. The term comes from the Andalusian Arabic arráwz, which is derived from the Arabicʾarruzz.
Sofa is another word that means the same thing in English and Spanish. Forever a fancier way of saying couch (although we just learned that there are differences historically between the two), sofa comes from the Arabic word suffah.
Guitarra and its English equivalent guitar are both words that come from the Arabic language. They are derived from the term qīṯārah. We got this tidbit of knowledge from Anything but language. If you click here, you can see the 43 other every day Spanish words originated from Arabic.