French Words That Made Their Way from Arabic

French words from Arabic
Reading Time: 4 minutes

From the Arabs of Andalusia in the 8th century, who brought immense commercial, scientific, and literary knowledge to Europe, all the way to the more recent Middle Eastern and North African migrations in the last decades, Arabic-speaking populations have had a considerable impact on the French language and culture.

French, an official language in 29 countries and one of the most-widely spoken Romance languages, has over 500 everyday words with Arabic origins (and that’s not even counting slang terms!).

If you take a close look at this list, you will also see that while these terms all entered French from Arabic, some of those Arabic words were borrowed in turn from other languages such as Greek or Sanskrit – and many of the French variants then made their way into English. Even in centuries past, the world was far more connected than we realize!

Here is our list of 35 French words that made their way from Arabic:

  1. ​​Abricot (apricot)from the Arabic word al barqūq (اَلْبَرْقُوق‎), meaning “plums,” which is itself derived from Latin praecoquum, meaning “early-ripening fruit”

  2. Alchimie (alchemy)from the Arabic word al-kīmiyā (كيمياء), derived from the Greek khemeioa which was in turn either a name for Egypt or the Greek word khymatos, meaning “that which is poured out”

  3. Alcool (alcohol)from the Arabic word al-kuhul (الكحول), meaning “darkened with kohl”, a metallic powder used as make-up to darken the eyelids, which itself comes from the Arabic “kahala” (كحل) meaning “to stain, paint” 

  4. Algorithme (algorithm)derived from the surname of 9th-century Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi (الْخُوَارِزْمِيّ), whose works introduced advanced mathematics to the West

  5. Algèbre (algebra) – from the Arabic word al-jabr (الجبر), meaning “reparation” or “the reunion of broken parts”

  6. Artichaut (artichoke)from the Arabic word al-khurshuf (الْخُرْشُوف‎), meaning “artichoke”

  7. Assassin (assassin)with a fascinating etymology and story, evolved from the Arabic word hashashin (حشَّاشين), meaning ‘hashish users’, derived from the word hashish (حشيش), meaning ‘grass’ or ‘[powdered] hemp’

  8. Azur (azure, shade of blue) Arabicfrom the Arabic word al-lazaward (اللازُورِدِ), meaning “lapis-lazuli”, a semi-precious stone known for its deep-blue color.

  9. Bougie (candle)taken from Béjaïa (بجاية), an Algerian city/port town where tapered hand-dipped candles were made

  10. Café (coffee) – from qahwa (قهوة), the Arabic word for “coffee”

  11. Chiffre (digit)from the Arabic word sifr (صِفر‎), meaning “empty” and, by extension, “zero”

  12. Coton (cotton) – from quṭn (قطن), the Arabic word for cotton

  13. Douane (customs) – from the Arabic word diwan (دِيوَان‎), meaning “office”

  14. Echecs (chess) – from shatranj (شطرنج), the Arabic word for chess, which is derived from the Sanskrit chaturanga, meaning “four members of an army” – elephants, horses, chariots, foot soldiers

  15. Elixir (elixir) – from the Arabic word al-ʾiksir (اَلْإِكْسِير‎), meaning elixir, which is ultimately derived from Ancient Greek xēríon (ξηρίον), meaning medicinal powder, which in turn comes from the Greek xērós (ξηρός) meaning “dry”

  16. Gazelle (gazelle) – from ḡhazaal (غَزَال‎), the Arabic word for gazelle

  17. Girafe (giraffe) from the Arabic word for giraffe, zarāfah (زرافة), meaning “fast walker”

  18. Hasard (chance) – from the Arabic word az-zahr (اَلزَّهْر‎), meaning “dice”

  19. Henné (henna) – from the Arabic word hinna’ (حِنَّاء‎), the name for the tree used to make henna

  20. Jupe (skirt) – from the Arabic word jubba (جُبَّة‎), meaning “long garment”

  21. Magasin (shop, warehouse) – from the Arabic word makhazin (مَخَازِن‎), plural of the Arabic word for “storeroom”

  22. Mesquin (petty/stingy) – from the Arabic word miskeen (مِسْكِين‎), meaning “poor”

  23. Nénuphar (waterlily) – from the Arabic word niloofar (نِلُوفَر), meaning “lotus, water-lily,” ultimately derived from Sanskrit nīlotpala (नीलोत्पल)

  24. Orange (orange) – from the Arabic word naranj (نارَنْج), which was borrowed from the Persian narang. The fruit naranj refers specifically to the bitter orange and can be traced back to the Sanskrit word naranga.

  25. Pastèque (watermelon)from the Arabic word bṭikh (بَطِّيخَة‎), meaning “melon, watermelon”

  26. Quintal (100 kg) from the Arabic word qinṭaar (قِنْطَار‎), which is ultimately derived from Latin centenarius, meaning “containing a hundred” 

  27. Razzia (raid) – from the Arabic word ghazwa (غَزْوَة‎), meaning “raid, military campaign”

  28. Safari (safari) – from the Arabic word safar (سفر), meaning “journey, travel” 

  29. Satin (satin) – from the Arabic word zaytūn (زَيْتُون‎), the transliteration of Citong, the city  in China where the fabric originated (thought to be around modern day Quanzhou)

  30. Sirop (syrup) – from the Arabic word sharab (شَرَاب‎), meaning “beverage”

  31. Sofa (couch) – from the Arabic word souffah (صُفَّة‎), referring to “a long seat made of stone or brick”

  32. Sucre (sugar) – from the  Arabic word sukkar (سُكَّر), meaning “sugar,” which is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit word śárkarā (शर्करा), meaning “ground or candied sugar”

  33. Tarif (rate) – from the Arabic word t‘aarifa (تَعْرِفَة‎), meaning “tariff”, which in turn comes from “تَعْريف”, meaning “information, notification”

  34. Toubib (doctor, informal) – from the Arabic word ṭabīb (طَبِيب‎), meaning “doctor”

  35. Zénith (point of the sky directly overhead at any place; the highest point or achievement of something) –  from the Arabic phrase samt ar-ra’s (‎سَمْت اَلرَّأْس‎), meaning “path over the head”

Want to learn more about French and/or Arabic? Check out our affordable, one-on-one language sessions for either language! Both are taught by native French and Arabic speakers from refugee and displaced backgrounds.

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