Which of the following English words has its origins in ancient Arabic?
Considering "admiral," "ghost," "metaphor," and "canyon," the answer is: admiral.      
Photo credit: Superprof

The word "admiral," meaning commander of the sea, is believed to have originated before the 12th century with Muslim Arabs. Combining the words "amir," meaning commander, the article "al", and the word "bahr" for sea, the title amir-al bahr was later shortened to amiral for use by the Sicilian naval forces.

Many words in the English language are derived from ancient languages. Arabic, one of the oldest languages in the world, informs many words that we use on a daily basis— from "coffee" to "algebra" to "sofa."  This is due to the fact that, in the early 8th century, Arab fighters invaded and took control of the Iberian Peninsula, or modern day Spain and Portugal. These forces, known as the Moors, spread their language throughout the area during their occupation. Eventually, the dialects merged with Latin, which was the language spoken by locals.

Over the next several centuries, Christian-led forces took control of the Iberian Peninsula. Yet by this time, the language in the region had been irrevocably influenced by Arabic. As Latin began to further influence emergent English, some of the Arabic words were passed on, and Anglicized ("algebra" actually comes from the word "al-jabr").

Interesting, then, that the word "admiral" has its source in Arabic, considering that it is a language of a desert-faring people who acquired seafaring skills after the great expansion of Islam in the seventh century. Ultimately, the application of admirallus to a commander of a fleet originated in 12th-century Sicily, was adopted by the Genoese, and then spread to countries throughout western Europe.

Learn more about English-Arabic etymology here.


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