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

In Arabic, there are words that don’t look Arabic – and they aren’t. The etymology of basha, bakshish, sitt, efendim, khan, dulab, fingan and Khorchide.

Last updated: 2 years ago

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

The word بَقْشِيش

This word is very famous in . It means gratuity, tip or simply baksheesh. It is mainly used to bribe or tip a person to speed up services.

It may be derived from Turkish bahşiş, from Persian بخشیش ‎(bakhšīš, “an honorary or pecuniary gratuity”) or بخشش ‎(bakhšiš), from بخشیدن ‎(bakhšīdan, “to give, grant”).

The word باشا

Pasha. It used to be a title (and form of address) of the highest ranking officers and officials. Nowadays, especially in Egypt, it is commonly used to address high officials, particularly police officials!

The prefix باش is used in compounds and means senior, chief. The word باشمُهَنْدِس (“Bashmuhandis”) is a chief engineer.

The origin is not clear. It may have entered Arabic from Ottoman Turkish پاشا ‎(pāšā) – Turkish paşa. It could also be from Persian پادشاه ‎(pādšāh, padishah, king). Or from Turkish baş ‎(head). Or from Turkish beşe ‎(boy, prince), this in turn from Persian بچّه ‎(bačče). It is not entirely clear, but it denotes the highest honorary title during the Ottoman Empire.

The word سِتّ

It is used in Egypt and means woman (امرأة). Some say that it is probably of Pharaonic origin. For men, there was once the very similar word سا/سى , which is not used anymore.

However, other scholars (for example Dr. S. Fritz Forkel, a German Arabist) suggested that it is NOT of Pharaonic origin – see comment below (in German).

The word أَفَنْدِي

This word is mainly used in Egypt. It entered Egyptian Arabic via the Turks who themselves had taken it from the Greeks. It is an epithet for sir (السَّيِّد النَّبِيل). It can be used similar to بك or باشا which are both used in Egyptian Arabic.

Dr. S. Fritz Forkel, a German Arabist, suggested that the Ottoman Turkish word افندي efendi, in modern Turkish efendi, is a borrowing of the Medieval Greek ἀφέντης afendēs, from Ancient Greek αὐθέντης authentēs – master, author, doer, perpetrator (cf. authentic). This word was widely used as a title for Byzantine nobles as late as 1465, such as in the letters of Cardinal Bessarion concerning the children of Thomas Paleologus.

The word أَفَنْدِم

This means: I beg your pardon. Or simply: Yes? Pardon? If you say it with a harsh tone, it may mean: “YES, I got it.” – which would be in Modern Standard Arabic: نَعَم، لَقَدْ فَهِمْت.

The Turkish the word efendim literally means my sir. Nowadays, it is used in shops or to answer a phone call simply meaning “hello” in a polite way.

خان and خانوم (feminine)

This word is commonly used in Egyptian Arabic to address people and has the meaning of Mister (السَيِّد) or Miss (السَيِّدة). In the Levant (الشّام), the word خانوم is used for السَيِّدة.

In Egypt, the word خانوم was turned into هانِم. It is a title and respectful term of address or reference to a lady. You will hear the expression “ya sitt' hānim” very often (يا سِتّ هانِم).

The word خان is also used in countries where Persian is spoken (e.g. Iran, Afghanistan), as well as parts of and India. Some scholars suggested that the word Khān may be borrowed from Turkic, literally lord, prince, a derivation of khaqan, which means ruler. However, the word has been known in Europe since the 13th century, e.g. Medieval Greek kanes, Russian khanu. Later it degenerated and became a title of respect. The female form is khanum, from Turkish khanim (see above).

Other scholars claim that the word is of Persian origin. The word خان can denote a big house or a hotel (“caravanserai“).

The word دُلاب

This term is used in Egypt for the thing in which you can store clothes, thus, a cabinet, closet. The term came probably from Persian دولاب ‎(dolâb, “closet“). It is also known in Turkish (dolap) and has entered modern Greek: ntoulápi (ντουλάπι), which means cabinet.

The word فِنْجان

This word is used in several Arabic dialects and usually denotes a small cup without a handle. It is probably of Persian origin. It is also known in Turkish (fincan).

The word تَرابِيزة

This is used in Egypt for table (طاوِلَة) and is of Greek origin: trapézi (τραπέζι) which means table. Notice: The English word trapezium comes from this Greek word.

The names Khorchide and Chahine

  • Mouhanad Khorchide (مُهَنَّد خُورْشِيد) is a professor in Germany who is advocating a very liberal version of Islam. So, what does his name mean? The word خورشيد is the Arabicized form of the Persian word خورشِد which means sun.
  • Youssef Gabriel Chahine (يوسف شاهين) was a very famous Egyptian film director who was credited with starting the career of actor Omar Sharif. The word شاهين is of Farsi origin and means falcon (صَقْر).

Learn more about Egyptian Arabic:

Picture credit: Image by kalhh from Pixabay

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N. Schist
N. Schist
5 years ago

I just discovered this small series of articles and I absolutely love these! I’ve always wondered about Arabic etymologies and it’s fun to think about a word’s origins, whether it’s Semitic or not, when coming across them while reading. Sometimes it’s real easy to find the borrowed, Arabized words because of word structure and grammar. Hope you do some more of these articles!

7 years ago


Love your blog. Very interesting article. I would like to add to your entry on dialectical words with Persian/Turkish/Greek origins:

The word خان in Iraqi dialect can also indicate a place where a particular product is sold, for ex: بنزين خان which is a gas station. This is a term used in Farsi/Pashto as well.

Also in Iraqi dialect of thise origins is the word چي – for someone who does something or provides a specific service. For example:

دمبغچي – drummer boy (derogatory)
كلاوچي – clown (mischevious person)
بستانچي – one who works at an orchard

Also worthy of note is that you can add a ة to make these titles female.

Also, افندي is very well-known in Iraq.

Thanks and let me know if these notes helped,


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