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Prison, ice cream, and shoes – etymology of Arabic words (part 2)

In Arabic there are words that don’t look Arabic – and they aren’t. The etymology of liman, odah, dondurma, shish tawouk, gazma, dughry, fihris.

Last updated: May 2, 2021

Farsi, Greek, and especially Turkish (Ottoman) have left traces in Arabic. Let’s continue our journey into the etymology of words – foreign words in Arabic.

The word لِيمان  (Līmān/Liman) or لُومان (Lūmān/Luman)

This term is used in Egypt for prison. The word is found in Turkish as well but means something very different: harbor (مِيناء).

The origin is perhaps from Byzantine Greek liménion (λιμένιον), from Ancient Greek limḗn (λιμήν). Some scholars suggested that it came from an earlier Egyptian (Pharonic) term for port, mni. The Greeks during the Hellenic times made it to Syria and used the word limen for various port cities. 


The word أُوضة

This word is found in Egyptian and Sudanese Arabic, and it is used for room (غُرْفَة). It is probably of Turkish origin; in Turkish, the word oda also means room.


The word دُنْدُورمة (dondurma)  or دَنْدُرمة (dandurma)

This word used to be very common in Egypt in the 20th century and means ice cream, especially fruit ice.

Nowadays, most Egyptians prefer to say simply “ice-cream” (آيس كريم), but you may hear it in old films or see it on signs. It is of Turkish origin and has the same meaning in Turkish.


The word شيش طاووق (Shīsh Tawūk)

You will hear this word in Egypt a lot. Tavuk (الطاووق) is a Turkish word and means chicken (دَجاجَة), probably coming from Old Turkic takagu, takıgu. The word شيش means skewer in Turkish and probably comes from Old Turkic sış or şış. Thus, the expression شِيش طاووق means دَجاج مَشْوِيّ – grilled chicken.


The word جَزْمَة

This means shoes in Egyptian Arabic as well does the Turkish word çizme. It comes from Ottoman Turkish (چیزمه).


The word  دُغْرِي

This word is very common in Egypt and means straight. You will hear it a lot when asking for directions, e.g. “Go straight ahead!” (امشي دوغري).

It may also mean frank or straightforward if it is used to describe people. It is probably an Ottoman word, from Old Turkic toğru. It is nowadays used in Turkey as well, doğru, which means straight, correct. In the Levant (الشّام) it is occasionally pronounced as دِغري .


The word فِهْرِس

It means index or catalog. It is most probably of Farsi origin.


That’s not all! Here you can find part 1 and part 3.


Deepen your understanding of Egyptian Arabic:

Picture credit: Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

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Jailbirds, thugs, and kufta – etymology of Arabic words (part 1)

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Pasha, Mister, and Baksheesh - etymology of Arabic words (part 3)

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