[IAEP] An activity for etymology?

Sameer Verma sverma at sfsu.edu
Mon Jul 7 19:07:08 CEST 2008

Here's an idea for an activity.

An activity that takes a word in a local language and shows its
etymological map as the word travels across cultures, perhaps with an
overlay of the world map. For example, the word "Sugar" (no pun
intended) has an interesting etymological evolution. From Wikipedia:

"In the case of sugar, the etymology
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology> reflects the spread of the
commodity. The English <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language>
word "sugar" originates from the Arabic
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_language> and Persian
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_language> word /shakar/,^[4]
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar#cite_note-3> itself  derived from
Sanskrit <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit> /Sharkara/.^[5]
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar#cite_note-Hassan-4> It came to
English by way of French <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_language>,
Spanish <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_language> and/or Italian
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_language>, which derived their
word for sugar from the Arabic and Persian /shakar/ (whence the
Portuguese <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_language> word
/açúcar/, the Spanish word /azúcar/, the Italian word /zucchero/, the
Old French word /zuchre/ and the contemporary French word /sucre/).
(Compare the OED
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_English_Dictionary>.) The Greek
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_language> word for "sugar",
/zahari/, means "pebble". "

So, sharkara (sanskrit)-> shakar (arabic)-> sucre (French) and so on.

On my recent trip to Italy, I saw something that provoked an "Aha!"
moment. I was in my hotel room, and the information posted on the door
had the word "Room" "Chamber" and "Camera". I quickly realized why a
photo-taking device was called "Camera" (a small dark chamber), but a
few seconds later I realized that in Hindi, a room is called "Kamaraa".
Its a word I've used all my life, without realizing where it came from.
I am still not sure if the etymology is connected. but "kamaraa" is
likely  of Urdu/Persian/Arabic origin, and hence it must have traveled
across cultures from Europe to India. More at

Of course, there are more popular ones such as shampoo
(http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=shampoo), juggernaut
(http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=juggernaut), etc. but the
kamaraa<->camera link for me was very exciting. I think many children
will find such discoveries exciting too!


Dr. Sameer Verma, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Information Systems
San Francisco State University
San Francisco CA 94132 USA

More information about the Its.an.education.project mailing list