Spanish Words of Foreign Origin: Arabismos

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Arabismos are Spanish words whose origins trace back to the Arabic language. There are plenty of them in la lengua de Cervantes, a direct consequence of over seven centuries of Muslim dominance in the Iberian Peninsula.

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Words from Arabic appear often on everyday fields, like agriculture, manufacture, handicraft or manual labor, as that language left remarkable traces in the local Spanish and Portuguese cultures.

In that sense, even proper names of many places are known to come directly from Arabic: “Andalucía”, from “al-andalus” (الْأَنْدُلُس); “Guadalajara”, from “wādī l-ḥijāra” (وَادِي الْحِجَارَة‎), meaning “stony valley or river”; and “Gibraltar”, from “jabal ṭāriq” (جَبَل طَارِق‎), meaning “Mountain of Tariq”.

Look at these few examples of arabismos:


Aceite: From “az-záyt” (أَلْزيت), the Spanish word for “oil”. This is a near-synonym of “óleo”, though the latter is most used for “oil painting” and “oil used for religious anointing”.

Aceituna: From “āz-zaytūnah” (الزيتونة), “olive”. It is easy to establish a link between this noun and “az-záyt”, and we could even imagine how important olive was as an oil source—be it as a food item or for combustion purposes—that the plant name in Spanish became forever intertwined with “aceite”.

Albahaca: From “al-habaqa” (الحبق), Spanish for “basil”.

Albañil: From “al-banní” (البَنِّيّ‎), it means “mason” or “bricklayer”.

Alcancía: From “al-kanzíyya” (الكنزية), it means “piggy bank”. The Arabic root “kanz” means “treasure”.

Algodón: From “al-qutun” (القطن), a cognate of the English word “cotton”.

Almohada: From “al-mihádda” (اَلْمِخَدَّة‎), the Spanish noun for “pillow”.

Alquimia: From “alkymia” (اَلْكِيمْيَا‎), which comes from Greek “chymeía” (“liquid mix”). This noun means “alchemy” and was the source of the word “química” (Spanish for “chemistry”).

Arsenal: From “dar as-sina’ah” (دَار الصِّنَاعَة‎), which originally meant “manufacturing shop” in Arabic, it is now use to refer to any kind of stock or supply, especially of weapons.

Azar: From “az-zahr” (الزَهْر‎), the Arabic word for “dice”, it may be used to express “luck, chance”—as in the expression “al azar” (“at random”)—or even “misfortune”.

Azúcar: From “al-sukkar” (اَلسُّكَّر‎), another cognate with an English word, this time with “sugar”.

Limón: From “laymun” (ليمون), a cognate with the English word “lemon”.

Ojalá: ‎ From “law šá lláh” (وَشَاءَ اللّٰه). It meant “and may God will it” in Hispanic Arabic. Now, it is a most useful interjection meaning “hopefully” or “if only”.

Tarea: From “tariha” (طريحة), “task, homework”.

Zanahoria: From “safunnárya” (إِسْفَنَارِيَّة‎), this word stemmed in turn from the Greek word “staphylínē agría” (σταφυλίνη ἀγρία), meaning “carrot”.


Keep tuned for more extranjerismos in Spanish in my upcoming posts!

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