Saturday, 18 July 2009

A lesson in English, courtesy of Arabic

One of the things I love about Arabic is the root system. Reading through Hans Wehr makes you stop and contemplate the interconnections of  words and their meanings. Every word has a story behind it. Such reflection soon makes me wonder about the history and interconnections of my own language, English.

I remember the first time I looked up “mathaf” in the dictionary. Mathaf is the Arabic word for museum and comes from the root, t-h-f, meaning “treasure” or “present” or “work of art”. It made me think about museum in English. Why do we call museums museums? Well if you stop and think about it, museum has the word “muse” in it and in a way, museums are indeed the places where we get inspiration. 

So if we were to define museum by its root meaning, would it be “the place where we get inspired”? 

Wow. Makes you want to go off and study Ancient Greek doesn't it? 

Today I made another discovery/realization about an English word: encourage/discourage.

If you take a moment and look at the word, you see that it contains the word “courage”. What can we surmise about the true meaning of the word “encourage”?

Encouraging is all about giving people courage to succeed. Confidence to try… and fail but try again… and possibly fail again, but keep trying!!! (especially when it comes to learning Arabic).

I wish that all those over-zealous types who put so much pressure on their children to succeed paid more attention to the etymology of words, because then they would see that encouragement is all about giving courage… believing in your students and children and making them realize that they are capable of intellectual bravery on their own.

Thank you Arabic for once again teaching me about English!

1 comment:

  1. from my friend charlotte (thought I'd share as it is sweet):

    I just read your blog post about the root system but I don't remember my password for Blogspot. It just made me think of how recently I realized that the word "intimidate" means "to make timid" or "give timidity." Isn't that crazy!

    I love the root system too, I have been immersed in it all summer but it's making more sense. One of my friends was delighted to learn that the Arabic verb "to edit" is related to the word for "freedom," and her teacher explained that it's because when you edit a text, you are "liberating" it from its mistakes.