July 22, 2011
When weathermen in Arizona started calling the region’s huge, recent sandstorms haboobs, they got hate mail. People were “insulted,” by the term, demanded that weathermen explain “what gave them the right” to use it, and asked: “how do you think our soldiers feel?”
The fact is, haboob is a perfectly good English word. It’s in your dictionary. It is of Arabic origin however, and therein lies reason for the objections.
Aside from the ridiculous xenophobia this represents, it also indicates complete ignorance about how the English language works.
English is composed largely of words that were borrowed from other languages. Much of our vocabulary is of French or German origin, but English has borrowed words from virtually every language on Earth. A few representative examples:
Australian Aboriginal (dingo).
And on and on it goes.
This is part of the genius of English – the reason why it is arguably the most expressive language on Earth. Thanks to many centuries of borrowings, it contains more words than any other language – nearly twice as many as French or German. How many English words are there? Roughly 800,000, counting technical terms; but an exact count is impossible because new words enter the language, both from borrowings and coinings, almost every day.
And. of course, lots and lots of everyday words have been borrowed from Arabic. Off the top of my head, here are a few. Let’s see if the idiots who object to “haboobs” can do without:
In fact, the very concept of zero originated with Arabic mathematicians. Perhaps the yahoos would like to ban it from our arithmetic.