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Words from Arabic
Words from Arabic have come into English in two different ways. A relative few, in more modern times, have made the jump directly as loanwords. In these instances, Arabic had a name for something that was either unknown in English or lacked a name. The more frequent route of Arabic words into English was in previous eras, often traveling through other languages on the way. For that reason the spelling of Arabic words in English is not consistent, but there are nevertheless a few clues that you can watch out for.
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The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, and among these are letters that represent half a dozen sounds that do not even exist in English. Thus, when a word crosses over from Arabic to English, there is always a compromise about how it will be spelled and pronounced, which sometimes results in inconsistencies. Some English consonants have to do double or triple duty, representing various sounds in Arabic that native speakers of English don't make.
Is it just coincidence that mohair describes the hair of a goat? Not exactly. Mohair—like dozens of other words in this book—is the result of a process called "folk etymology." Folk etymology sometimes occurs when a word travels from one language to another. Speakers of the new language (ordinary "folks") often change the word in a way that makes it more like words in their language. To help them remember just what the word is, they might even change a part of it to match a word that is already familiar to them. The original Arabic for mohair is mukhayyar. The element hayyar doesn't mean "hair," but its sound was close enough for English speakers to make the connection. Watch out for other words that you suspect might have elements of folk etymology in them!
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