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Discovering origin of words

23 Oct 2022

By Saleh Miri

Though many of us “use” words each and every day, seldom do we know or enquire about their origins.

There’s an interesting example that relates to the word ‘Croatia’. As described in the British scholar Noel Malcolm’s invaluable research into the racial relationship between Iranians and some ethnicities of the former Yugoslavia: “The name Croat, or Hravat in Serbian, is not a Serbian word. It is similar to the Iranian name Choroatos, found on tombstones of Greek dwelling regions of south Russia.”

He goes on to add that the original form of the word is “Khoravat” as mentioned in Avesta, meaning “friendly.”

Malcolm also wrote that Iranians migrated from Iran towards the area known, until 1992, as Yugoslavia. They wore a scarf around their head and rode horses or camels. Once they arrived at their destination, they knotted the scarf around their necks. They were known subsequently as the Croavatis.

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, wearing a tie has been seen as an insult to Islam. It is sad to see that people rarely conduct serious research into the roots – and foundation – of countless words we use throughout the world. If we did, I assume many Iranians would be proud to learn of the legacy of their nation and would, perhaps, wear a tie in respect of their old traditions. Till today, many family names in Croatia have their roots in Persian history.

Another interesting story about the etymology of a particular word now recognised globally comes from Hassan Sabah, a 12th century Persian general. Sabah was a friend of the famous poet, Omar Khayyam, who lived in Samarkand. He was leading a small army of soldiers in Alamut, a location west of Tehran. The soldiers were tired and unfit to fight income enemy determined to capture Alamut Fort.

It is said that Sabah had created an amazing garden filled with beautiful animals, birds and a particular “dry herb.” This dry herb was the outcome of compressing and processing parts of the cannabis plant.

Yes, Sabah had cannabis planted in order to produce “hashish” in his private residence on top of the fort. One night, he called ten of the soldiers and introduced them to ten beautiful girls, in addition to enough hashish, which left them “speechless” upon their return to camp!

When the soldiers finally woke up, they were told the experience was a sample of what awaits them in heaven. The soldiers narrated their experience to other soldiers and they all decided to become martyrs in order to benefit from the advantages of paradise. They were originally named the “Hashashin,” which later developed into the Order of the Assassins or simply the “Assassins” – a derivative term indicative of the ruthless carnage they exacted on their enemies.

It is interesting – if not fascinating – to discover the origins of not only words but also terms, phrases and idioms! It is through reading – listening, speaking and writing – that we gain rare insight into the etymology of words we use today and maybe, just maybe, a new perspective of just how intricate, comprehensive and sophisticated language has become on a global scale.

Avocado, salary, uppity, moron. Look up these words and their past. You just might be surprised of where they come from.

Saleh Miri, Muscat Daily columnist, is an architect who came to Oman in the early 1980S

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