Word Nerd: Everyone speaks Farsi

28 Mar

We Indians are used to sneaking in the occasional English word when we speak in Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marathi, or some other Indian language. But it wasn’t until I shared a home with an Iranian roommate in the US that I realized how much Farsi I already knew, without ever having learned the language.

Spice jars with labels

My discovery began when my roommate ran out of salt, and asked if she could use mine. Now, American sugar is nearly as fine as salt, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other, so if you discarded the original packaging, you’d have to label the jars. I had labelled them in Hindi, and my roommate, of course, couldn’t read a word of it. As I handed her the salt, she asked what I had written on the jar. When I said namak, she excitedly said, “Hey! That’s what we call it too!” I was surprised.

Over the next half-hour, we came up with a list of words we both knew: zeera (cumin), shakkar (sugar), chai (tea), ananas (pineapple), anaar (pomegranate), ghosht (meat), pilau (a rice dish), seb (apple), sabzi (a vegetable dish)… it was a long list! We found we shared a non-food vocabulary, too: manzil (house), jaan (life), fizool (rubbish), shah (king).

I also found out that seersucker, that wonderful cotton fabric with crinkly stripes, perfect for the summer, gets its name from the Farsi words for milk (shir) and sugar. Of course, in Sanskrit, kshiram means milk, and sarkara can mean gravel, grit or sugar.

There are two reasons for all these similarities: one is trade routes, and the other is a shared linguistic ancestry in the form of an Indo-European root language. The latter may explain, for example, why our words for God are so similar: Dev (Gujarati, Hindi, Konkani, Marathi), Deus (Latin and Portuguese), Dio (Italian), Dieu (French), Dios (Spanish), and Theos (Greek).

Can you think of other words that we share with people around the world? Leave a comment, or tweet to @braingainmag with the hashtag #WordNerd

Previous WordNerd posts are here.


By: Uma Asher

One Response to “Word Nerd: Everyone speaks Farsi”

  1. Deepak Rikhye March 29, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    Excellent narrative for international students in the US. With my odyssey having been in Tea, from birth, yes- I can add the Chinese word Cha and in some Chinese Provinces, Tai, for the word tea. From- Deepak Rikhye

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