risk, part II

Fast Mash

  • Risk might be rooted in the Arabic rizq, meaning “sustenance,” “provision,” “wages,” “fortune,” ultimately from Persian rozik, “daily bread”
  • Greek origins are also possible, including rhiza, meaning “root” and “rhysis” meaning “deliverance”; Greek might have adopted Arabic rizq as well

Last post, we saw some risks taken with the origin of risk.

Roads led back to Latin’s risicum, signifying commercial risk, and, down its Romance trails, risks to merchandise on the sea. But ways further back to Latin resecāre (“cut off”) and Icelandic ráðask (“counsel oneself” on military action) were, in the very least, dicey hikes, if not downright dead-ends.

Dicey–a comrade in all-things-language, whose enthusiasm for my posts I never take for granted, offered this word in a conversation on a Twitter. Is it the same as riskyThe word does mean risky, as well as uncertain or unpredictable. And it comes from dice, as in taking chances by rolling the dice, and was apparently in the 1940s “aviator’s jargon,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

But I can’t help but feel that the words aren’t exactly synonyms. I was reading a National Geographic about the solar system (Is there anything better? Perhaps dinosaurs) that read, “The future is dicey.” You could say the future is risky, but the sense is different. Subtly different. Like an object rearranged in a room. I haven’t figured out quite how–perhaps matters of agency vs. situation. Chime in with a comment if you have figured it out. (Sigh. The world debates Syria. I am debating dicey and risky.)

Anyways, all risk-y roads lead back to Rome, but they may not end there. For Latin may have adopted risk from the Arabic rizq or Greek ῥίζικον (rhixikon).


So, Arabic has this word: rizq (رزق). 

Well, to be more accurate, Arabic has a triconsonantal root: r-z-q. Semitic languages like Arabic feature roots, which usually consist of three consonants, into and around which vowels and other non-root consonants are added and manipulated in particular patterns. These patterns change its grammatical category, i.e., “he walks” vs. “he will walk” vs. “he walked.” In the case of r-z-q, razaqa means “he bestowed” whereas yarzuqu means “he bestows” or “he will bestow.” See how r-z-q always occurs in that order?

Mind you, Semitic verb tenses are different from English, so these are inexact glosses. And this is just the beginning. Semitic roots can do some fantastic things. Just as the Old Norse -sk makes verbs reflexive, so Semitic patterns can make verbs causative (to cause to risk), reciprocal (to risk with each other), and even pretense (to pretend to risk).

I love what we humans have done with language. I love what complexity our tongues, our minds, can master. Just marvel: babies learn these patterns–no sweat, no explicit classroom instruction–by dint of being born into a culture that speaks it.

Hold on, “bestow”?

R-z-q, in its noun form rizqhas a host of meanings: “sustenance,” “livelihood,” “daily wage,” “provision,” “nourishment,” “income,” “fortune.” So, most literally, rázaqa (the form that stands in for the infinitive, which there is no Arabic equivalent for) has the sense of bestowing a person with a way to get by. The bestower? Well, from the time of Prophet Muhammed on, Al-Razzaq, the One Who Provides, Allah.

I spent a little time perusing exegeses of rizq in the Quran. Also a complex matter. From what I have gleaned, and I am neither a scholar of Arabic nor the Quran, rizq refers to the sustenance (food, a living) provided by God, but also the very sustenance that one works for, earns, puts effort towards. I’m seeing a fate and free will dynamic at work.

But the word predates its theological and ethical contexts in the world’s third major monotheistic religion. As the OED puts its, the “original sense” of rizq was “probably ‘a thing from which a person profits or derives an advantage.'” The OED further traces the noun back to the similar but more immediate Middle Persian rozik, “daily provision, daily sustenance.” And Wiktionary supplies “daily bread.” (“Give us this day our daily bread”…Abrahamic religions are just so original.)

Risk: Gotta get that bread.


So, perhaps Latin’s risicum was adopted from the Arabic–and ultimately Persian, an Indo-European language–rizq. But the story ain’t over yet.

As I learned from the OED, Latin risicum appeared around the same time as the Greek ῥίζικον, meaning the same. Many think the Greek borrowed the term from Latin, but the Romans may have Latinized the Hellenic. The OED posits three origins for ῥίζικον:

  • ῥίζα (not the rapper, but rhiza), meaning root, giving English the botanical rhizo-, as in rhizoid.

On this, Weekley adds that ῥίζα meant “root, used of a submarine hill, cliff, and in Modern Greek, sense of fate, chance.” This origin fits with maritime contexts we’ve seen, providing a more practical coastline danger than those high crags. But the sense evolution of fate and chance seem to point back again to the Arabic rizq.

  • ῥῦσις (rhysis), meaning deliverance, as attested in the Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible as translated by the alleged 70 interpreters into Koine (or common, Hellenistic) Greek

Concerning ῥῦσις, we get some of the divine resonances of spiritual freedom we saw in Arabic’s rizq, although deliverance, and its biblical usage, typically concern slavery, death, and evil. Rhysis can also mean flow, which complicates this picture.

  • Arabic rizq. 

Here is what the OED notes on rizq:

The case for the latter suggestion may be strengthened by the early attestation of medieval Greek ῥουζικόν ‘food tax, food allowance for Arab troops, grain supply’ alongside Arabic rizq in late 7th- and early 8th-cent. bilingual Arabic–Greek papyri from Egypt; here ῥουζικόν is clearly a borrowing of the Arabic noun (probably with alteration after its Persian ulterior etymon).

It might be a little dicey, but I’d put my money on rizq.

Well Worth Taking

Rocks, roots, bread. Merchandise, military attacks. Commerce, deliverance. Etymology doesn’t always tell stories with clear beginnings, middles, or ends. But it does tell stories about human cognition, of the experience of being human in the world. How we think in metaphors and the way our language embodies that, how we build systems of such complex abstractions out of the most concrete building blocks, how language is so cultural and so changeable. And I like to think, too, that there is a risk we take in doing so–in making morphemes out of metaphors, new concepts out of available consonants, all in the effort of trying to express our needs, our worlds, both to understand and be understood. A risk well worth taking.

m ∫ r ∫

citrus, part II

Fast Mash

  • Orange enters English in the 14th-c. from the French orenge (pomme d’orenge) via Spanish naranja, Portuguese laranja, Italian narancia
  • The Romance forms of orange ultimately go back to Arabic naranj, Persian narang, Sanskrit naranga; may be rooted in Tamil (South India) naru, for fragrant
  • Also growing in bunches, grapefruit is indebted to grape, from French graper (gather), from Germanic root *krappon (hook, used to so gather)

Last February, my fiancée and I travelled to Istanbul. Winding through its dense and storied streets, we stopped often to sample foods from street vendors and stalls, such as the savory pastry of börek, sesame-ringed simit, or cups of golden-hued çay, the tea steaming from its tulip-shaped glass.

On one afternoon outing, after my wanderings led us—yet again—through that bustling center of Old Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar, we took a seat a tiny table at a tinier stall just at the market’s perimeter. For refreshment, I stuck with çay, happily substituting my coffee addiction with Turkey’s go-to beverage. (No native is really Turkish coffee in Istanbul.) My fiancée, however, went for something new: freshly squeeze pomegranate juice.

In my traveller’s Turkish, always received warmly, I ordered: “Lütfen bir çay ve bir nar istiyorum.” Literally, please one tea and one pomegranate (juice) I would like.

Turkish is what is called an agglutinative language. That means it forms complex words by “gluing together” individual morphemes. And a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language.

So, in English, cats has two morphemes: cat and s, which marks the plural. Other languages like Turkish glue a lot more morphemes together than English does. Take istiyorum: in one word, it combines morphemes for verb tense, aspect, person, and number to communicate “I want,” “I am wanting,” or “I would like.”

If I wanted to negate that statement in English, I would say, “I do not want.” I need two new morphemes, in this case two whole words, and I place them in the right order in the expression. But a Turkish person would add a morpheme right smack dab in the middle of the whole word: istemiyorum. It gets really complicated, really fast. And it’s a totally different way of doings things. Cool, right?

Anyways, it’s the Turkish nouns in my drink order that interest me here. Yes, the Turkish çay is related to chai, pronounced the same and ultimately from the Chinese. But I didn’t expect that nar would be related to orange. Though thousands of miles away, with the humble nar I was in fact much closer to home than imagined.


As lexicographer Eric Partridge put its, “The descent of orange is long, yet clear.” Well, “clear” is his opinion.

In the 14th-century, Middle English picks up orange (and at some point the fruit itself?) from the French orenge (now orange). The French occurred in the phrase pomme d’orenge, taken from a similar Medieval Latin construction. French picked up pomme from Latin’s pomus, which meant fruit and later apple. (Cf. the Dutch oranjeappel and the Scots appil orange.  Also consider French’s pomme de terre, earth-apple, for potato.)

The Latin was taken from the Italian narancia (now arancia), and the form of the word travelled like all the sailors who brought the fruit over from Asia.

Here is a study in some orange (cognates):

  • Provençal, auranja
  • Catalan, taronja
  • Spanish, naranja
  • Portuguese, laranja
  • Italian, narancia/arancia/melarancia
  • Rumanian, naranta
  • Greek, nerantzi

The Spanish naranja seems to be the point of diffusion from orange’s oldest crop: the Arabic naranj, Persian narang, and the Sanskrit naranga (orange tree).

The Sanskrit, in turn, is probably related to terms in two of that subcontinent’s hundreds of other tongues: Tamil’s naram/naru (which Partridge glosses as fragrant) and Tulu’s narengi. It’s not every day one gets to talk about Tamil or Tulu. Both are the in the Dravidian family, a non-Indo-European language primarily spoken in Southern India and Northern Sri Lanka.

At this point, you’re probably seeing nar as a common thread. In Persian, nar named the pomegranate, which fruit and term spread to the Turkic peoples. Hence, a freshly squeezed cup of nar in Istanbul. It was delicious, too.

So, what happened to the and the in English’s orange?

The o- may have been influenced by the southern French city of Orange (later tied up in Dutch royalty and Irish Protestantism). Or or, the French for gold, due to the fruit’s color, from the Latin aurum.

And the n? Perhaps due to something called misdivision, or metanalysis, which happens when words are broken down at the wrong boundary. A few examples illustrate:

  • An apron? Originally, a napron.
  • A newt? An ewte.
  • Nickname? First, an eke name, with eke meaning also or additional.
  • An umpire? More like a noumpre (from French for odd number).
  • And how about one where there is no definite article (a, an)? Tawdry originally comes from St. Audry’s lace.

At some point, the definite articles—as in un naranja, une narange, or una narancia— could have promoted the loss of the initial n. Say them out loud and it’s easy to be convinced.

And here’s just a little more zest in the life of orange from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

The tree’s original range probably was northern India. The Persian orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction in Italy 11c., was bitter; sweet oranges were brought to Europe 15c. from India by Portuguese traders and quickly displaced the bitter variety, but only Modern Greek still seems to distinguish the bitter (nerantzi) from the sweet (portokali “Portuguese”) orange. Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy. On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean. Introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Introduced to Hawaii 1792.

How do you like them apple-oranges?


I like grapefruit. No sugar, too. I buy it. Always pumped for a healthy, colorful, and tart start to the day. But I never get around to it. The apples and bananas are the first to go. Then oranges. Then the pitted fruits and berries. My fruit bowl is left not-so-empty with a grapefruit or two.

As Socrates surely implied, the unreflected grapefruit is not worth eating. So, what is up with the grape in grapefruit, anyways? And what, if anything, do grapes and grapefruit have in common?

Their etymology, that’s what. Grapefruit, called so in 1814 and cousin to the shaddock or pomelo, grows, apparently, like grapes, in bunches and clusters. The Old French grape, referring both the bunch and the individual grape berries, was most likely formed on graper, which meant gather, seize, or catch with a hook. This verb, in turn, probably comes from the Germanic root *krappon, meaning hook. Cramp and crampon are related, as is grapple, which perfectly describes my relationship to the fruit. The tool came to name the action, and the action came to name the result.

Who says you can’t compare apples and oranges—and grapefruits and grapes?

 m ∫ r ∫

citrus, part I

Fast Mash

  • Citrus referred to the “citron tree” in Latin; possibly related to the Greek word for the cedar tree, kedros, and whose scent apparently can evoke citron
  • Lemon (via French) and lime (via Spanish) come from Arabic laimun/limah, which may in turn trace back to Persian limun/lim (citrus)  

I hate to get too personal on this blog, but one of my missions in the Mashed Radish is to connect etymologies to everyday life.

So, my fiancée and I are moving to Southern California for the next couple of years for her work. Tough luck, right? We’re aiming to be-neighbor (coinage props?) some family in Laguna Beach, where the rents are as high as the citrus is abundant. Here’s to unbalanced diets…and budgets.

Naturally, all of this got me thinking: Where do the words for fruit come from anyhow? Let’s start with citrus.


Today, citrus commonly refers to a class of fruits—you’re probably thinking of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. I like clementines, tangerines, and tangelos, too, but someone has to draw the line. And you know how long these posts get already. More technically, citrus refers to a particular genus (capital “c” Citrus) of flowering plants that bear the fruit.

In Latin, citrus named the citron tree, found in Africa (the northern parts, I presume) that had fragrant wood and bore citron, a sour fruit that resembles a bumpier, more oblong lemon. Except for the, um, absolutely terrifying creature that is known as Buddha’s Hand citron featured below. Aptly named…if Buddha is a space monster trying to suck your face off.

I'm scared, too.

Anyways, the OED puts citrus as ultimately Asiatic in origin. As biologists do for the fruit, first springing up in Northeast India, Burma, and Southeast China.

Some etymologists (including Weekley and Klein) argue that citrus is actually cognate to Greek’s cedar (kedrosκέδρος). Adding to this theory is the aromatic resemblance between the two trees. As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes, the citron was the first citrus available in the West. (Ponder being the first to handle such a fruit!) And historically, the fruit was used as medicine, explaining the citron’s scientific name, Citrus medica.

Check out some of these passages from antiquity on citron. Theophrastus says its improves the breath? Pliny the Elder describes its uses as ancient bug spray? (Citronella is indeed derived from citrus, lexically speaking, but is squeezed out of lemongrass.) And a believer who cites the Koran is like a citron? Good work, Wikipedia.

Lemon & Lime

Speaking of Islam, cue the confetti: Mashed Radish has its first Arabic words. (Not that Islam is solely an institution of Arabic, but I needed a good transition.)

Lemon entered English around 1400 from Old French limon (citrus fruit). Via Provençal or Italian and with many a Romance cognate, the word ultimately comes from the Arabic laimun or limah*, with lim functioning as a collective word for citrus fruits in general. Lime shows a similar lineage, but entering in the 1630s through the Spanish lima. The OED ends lemon and lime here, but others, such as Skeat, trace the Arabic back to the Persian limun or limuna. 

Arabic is not an Indo-European language, but Persian is. It’s an Iranian language in the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. Crazy that Persian is in the same family as English, Latin, and German, right? (Sc. English father, Persian padar; English name, Persian nam; English you, Persian to/tu; English mouse, Persian mush. Yep, cognates.). But, while in the Afro-Asiatic family, Arabic was nevertheless influenced by Persian. You know, history and stuff.

But, before looking up lemon and lime, I wouldn’t have thought of the ancient Middle East. And I wouldn’t just think of 7UP. Or, cocktails, more accurately. I think of a lemon, as in a crappy car. Lemon has referred to “something undesirable,” as Partridge puts it, since around 1920, although the Online Etymology Dictionary dates a meaning of “worthless thing” further back to 1909, noting:

American English slang…perhaps via criminal slang sense of “a person who is a loser, a simpleton,” which is perhaps from the notion of someone a sharper can “suck the juice out of.”

Or it could just be metaphorical, lemon’s being sour and all.

Limey, an insulting term for an Englishman, goes back, too. Apparently, in 1888, South Africans, New Zealanders, and Australians used the term as an epithet for English immigrants. In the US, the term goes back to 1918, first describing a British sailor or ship and later generalized to a whole nationality, often functioning adjectivally, if you know where I’m going. The term is shortened from lime-juicer, as lime juice was proscribed by the British Navy to prevent scurvy all the way back in 1795.

In Part II, things get a little bit plumper with orange and grapefruit. Orange you glad I didn’t squeeze them all into one?

m ∫ r ∫ 

*Due to variations in the transcription of the Arabic, I have “averaged out” the spelling of the Arabic and Persian roots of lemon and lime.