...many words we use in english originate from the arabic language.
There are well over 300 million native Arabic speakers in the world and Arabic is an official language in over 20 countries. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that some of the words which we use in the English language today originate from the Arabic. A study of the etymology of many words with mathematical meanings and connotations will reveal that their root is in Arabic, even though they are now used in English. Here are ten words - they all begin with the letter 'A'. In some cases, they were adopted into English from intermediary languages, having already been borrowed from Arabic. So, let's take a look!
Did any come as a surprise? There are many, many more, such as Jumper, Giraffe and Candy, to name but a few. The history and evolution of languages is a complex, yet entirely fascinating one. Etymology really is something to get excited about!
...THAT CHAIRMAN MAO LIVED TO THE AGE OF 82 DESPITE A PROFOUNDLY UNHEALTHY LIFEstyle.
125 years, 2 months and 13 days ago (at the time of writing) - on December 26th, 1893 - a baby boy was born in Shaoshan, Hunan. This child would, 56 years later, lead a successful communist revolution in China and serve as its unrivaled - and ruthless - leader until his death in 1976. He died at the age of 82 - something of a remarkable achievement in any country or period of history.
Perhaps what is more remarkable is that, in so many respects, Mao Zedong led a life that many of us would consider dangerously unhealthy. Below is an abridged list of some of the ways in which he threw caution to the wind:
He never brushed his teeth.
In his 1988 memoir, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr. Li, who functioned as Mao’s private physician, described how the leader’s teeth were dark green in colour and pungent in their odour. Mao followed a habit that was common among the Chinese peasantry of rinsing his mouth with tea in the morning, after which he would chew and swallow the leaves. When advice was offered that he might use a toothbrush, Chairman Mao replied that, since a tiger never brushes his teeth, then there was no reason for him to.
He rarely, if ever, bathed.
His refusal to brush his teeth was absolute, however, Mao’s general cleanliness, though unpalatable to most, was less so. Slightly. Other than when he occasionally went for a swim - which he famously did in the Yangtze River in 1966, marking his ‘return’ to political life after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward - he never bathed. Incidentally, when he swam in the Yangtze on that day in Wuhan, Mao set a world record swim time of 65 minutes for the 15 km distance he covered. For a 72 year old man who, to put it generously, was overweight and dangerously unfit, this ‘record’ (as it was reported by Chinese media at the time), was all the more impressive. A New York Times article entitled The Tyrant Mao, as Told by His Doctor, explained how Mao would never wash his face or hands and, other than the odd river swim, his only concession to cleanliness was an occasional ‘hot towel’ rub down from his bodyguards.
Mao setting a 'world record' with his famous swim in the Yangzte in 1966
He ate. And ate.
While millions of his people died of starvation during his rule, Mao never went hungry. In fact, at the Zhongnanhai Compound - the heavily guarded area within the Forbidden City - frequent parties would be thrown, the likes of which would, to quote Morrissey, “...make Caligula blush”. In addition to the sexual orgies engaged in by the Chairman, there were also orgies of a culinary kind. Mao’s favourite food - which he devoured with scant regard to portion control - was the rich hong shao rou. This dish consisted of cubes of sugar-caramelised pork belly coated with rice wine.
He was a prolific spreader of STD’s
Dr. Li diagnosed Mao as a carrier of trichomonas vaginalis and urged him to take an antibiotic to protect his sexual partners. Mao refused on the grounds that, since it wasn’t hurting him, it did not matter. Although it may be difficult to comprehend, the many women that he infected (and there were many) seemed to hold the disease up as a badge of honour, proving that they had been intimate with the Chairman. Wherever Mao travelled, he would have a never-ending coterie of young women brought to him to satisfy his sexual desires. It is claimed by Dr. Li that, as Mao got older the number of women required to satisfy these desires increased. As their number increased, their ages decreased. Significantly. Apparently Mao believed that the more sex he had, and the younger his partners, the longer the life he would lead. Perhaps his demanding sexual schedule is one of the reasons Mao would spend days on end dressed only in his dressing gown.
Under Chairman Mao, the Chinese people were often forced to live a life of strict morality and adhere, often pathologically, to an ideological dogma that helped cause the death and suffering of millions. All the while their leader was indulging in private behaviour that would most likely have appeared, had it been made public during his lifetime, bourgeois and decadent at best; deviant, hypocritical and immoral at worst. Regardless, Mao’s scant regard to his own health and cleanliness, is staggering.
Dr. Elliott L. Watson
...the english language includes many words from the languages of the indian subcontinent?
British links with the Indian subcontinent go back a long, long way. The East India Company (EIC) was founded in 1600, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. By 1763, victory in the Seven Years’ War meant that the enduring colonial power in the region until the twentieth century would be Britain, rather than France or Spain. In 1858, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Crown took possession of India from the EIC. The subsequent ‘British Raj’ lasted until 1947 when India gained independence from the British Empire.
To be sure, the English language has evolved over time, often as a result of British interactions with people from other geographical locations and cultures. Anyone who has studied Shakespeare or studied the Norman Conquest will no doubt be aware of that! Given the extensive history of the British in India, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that many words used in the English language are actually of Indian origin. Here are just a few of them. Some might well surprise you ...
Punch (as in the drink)
It is clear, therefore, that history has made its mark on the English language.
...THAT NAGASAKI WAS NOT THE ORIGINAL TARGET OF THE SECOND ATOM BOMB IN JAPAN.
Mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. (US gov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
At 8.15am on August 6th 1945, a B-29 Superfortress from the 393rd Bombardment Squadron called the Enola Gay - named after the mother of its pilot, Paul Tibbets - released a bomb carrying 64kg of uranium 235. After just under 45 seconds of freefall, Little Boy - this was the name of the atom bomb - detonated at 580 metres above the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Close to 80,000 civilians died instantly.
When the Japanese Imperial Army refused to capitulate, a meeting on the US-controlled Pacific island of Guam, including such military luminaries as General Curtis Lemay and Rear-Admiral William R. Purnell, was convened to determine the next move. With no Japanese surrender forthcoming, the ‘next move’ was adjudged to be the dropping of a plutonium-based weapon, codenamed Fat Man (named by Robert Serber of the Manhattan Project after a character in The Maltese Falcon) over the city of Kokura. Kokura, in the south west of Japan was, incidentally, the secondary target had Hiroshima been cloud-covered on the 6th of August. Now it was the primary target.
'Fat Man' being sprayed with plastic on the island of Tinian
At just after 3.45am on the 9th of August, another B-29 Superfortress - this time named Bockscar - took off from the island of Tinian in the Pacific Ocean, loaded with Fat Man, and headed towards the Kokuran military arsenal. After rendezvousing with support planes above Yakushima Island, Bockscar flew onto Kokura. For a good portion of the final months of the war in the Pacific, the USAF had been firebombing the mostly wooden cities of Japan in the hopes of causing such terrible civilian casualties and damage to property that the High Command would be forced into surrender. During the previous day, American bombs had set fire to the nearby city of Yahata. The smoke that continued to billow from the city obscured the primary target of Kakura such that, despite three bombing runs above the target, the Bockscar could find no opening in the cloud cover. As a result, the secondary target was selected. Nagasaki, and not Kokura, would bear the brunt of history’s atomic age.
B-29 Superfortress, Bockscar. (ASAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Two minutes before any clock in Nagasaki struck 11am, Fat Man fell from Bockscar. 43 seconds later, one gram of matter (from the 6.19kg of plutonium) was converted into heat and radiation 500 metres above the ground. Approximately 40,000 Japanese people died almost immediately. The number of deaths would have been far higher had it not been for the mountainous topography of Nagasaki which helped shield some residents from the blast. As it was, tens of thousands died from leukaemia and other radiation-related illnesses, as well as the fires that raged long after.
Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima(Hiromichi Matsuda (松田 弘道, ?-1969) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Dr Elliott L. Watson
The ‘Tonkin Gulf Resolution’, August 10th, 1964
Our recent Versus History podcast was a fifteen-minute special in which Patrick asked me some quick-fire questions in the allotted time on one of my particular areas of interest. The area of interest that I elected to have questions fired at me upon was American involvement in the Vietnam War.
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the Vietnam War. I am very much aware that the term ‘fascinated’ is perhaps wholly inappropriate a verb to employ when discussing an event in which countless numbers of people lost their lives, and one which still carries a present-day legacy of physical and emotional trauma, but it is, to me, the right word to use. It is entirely possible that my fascination was conceived during my early to mid-teens when I would spend school lunchtimes at a friend’s house watching (among a number of movies I wasn’t supposed to watch at such a tender age) the Oliver Stone film, Platoon. The horror of the conflict and the stark and complex differences between the ‘soldiers’ on both sides, as well as the differences between the American soldiers themselves, made for a jarring, unsettling viewing experience.
The more I learned and, later, taught about American involvement in the Vietnam War, the more it became clear to me why it was so, enigmatic. Again, you may think this a terrible choice of adjective to describe an event of such tragedy and horror - and for the most part, you would be correct in your thinking, except that...
Ask yourself this question: When did the Vietnam War begin? Go one further and ask yourself: When did American involvement in Vietnam begin? The enigma that I speak of is bound up in these two questions.
It used to be that wars were a largely formal affair - war was declared, lines were drawn, sides were assembled, and battle commenced. The United States has not issued a formal declaration of war since June 4th 1942, which was against Rumania. Of course, to suggest that the United States has been entirely uninvolved in direct military conflict since 1942 would garner immediate incredulity. However, the fact still stands: the United States Congress (for it is only the legislature which can do so) has declared war ‘only’ eleven times in its history, starting in 1812 against the British, and ending in 1942 against the Rumanians. And therein lies the rub. As historians of conventional wars, we can place our finger on a date in a calendar, or a mark on a timeline and declare with the utmost of confidence, “Here, here is where the war starts!”. With the conflict in Vietnam, we can have no such confidence because we can do no such thing.
US Declaration of War on Rumania, June 4th 1942
All of what we would call modern day Vietnam (as well as many of its surrounding neighbours - often referred to collectively as Indochina) had been colonised and ruled, almost without break, for hundreds of years by various foreign interlocutors - from China, to France, to Japan, back to France, and then - according to most Vietnamese - to the United States. Each subsequent incoming coloniser (for that is how they were most certainly viewed by the vast majority of the people of Vietnam) came into the country immediately upon the heels of the outgoing coloniser. In some cases, the outgoing invader was forced out by the incoming invader. In some cases, the invader was chased out by the Vietnamese themselves. In other cases - one of particular note - the outgoing occupier (a failing France) asked for assistance from someone they hoped would take on some of the burden of ruling Vietnam - the United States.
Since there is no declaration of war to which we can point as the ‘start’ of the war, then the language we employ must shift to accommodate the vagaries of a war without one. The term we generally use in our investigation is ‘involvement’. In many ways this word is a poor substitute for ‘beginning’ or ‘start’ - instead of making things clearer, the new semantic actually makes murkier the already murky water. Ask any Historian to determine the origin of a war, and expect a deep inhalation of breath before they begin. Ask any Historian about the origin of involvement in a war, and you had better tell your husband or wife that you’ll be late home for dinner. The reason? How do you quantify involvement? How do you qualify involvement? By what criteria do you judge involvement? What does involvement even mean? You know what I mean?
Take a deep breath...
Without a declaration of war, at what point would you consider America to be involved in Vietnam? If a president utters public phrases criticising French occupation of Vietnam, does that represent a public investment in the concerns of the country? If a president begins discussing who should rule Vietnam once World War Two is over and the Japanese are defeated, does this constitute American involvement? FDR did both of these things. If American soldiers, including Major Allison Thomas, as part of an OSS (Office of Strategic Services) mission had parachuted into North Vietnam to train Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh guerrillas to help prevent Japanese escape and gather intelligence, would this constitute American involvement in Vietnam? This happened in the dying days of World War Two, under President Truman. In order to guarantee French support in NATO, and to avoid a Cold War power vacuum being created by a French loss in Indochina (who were now fighting the Viet Minh), Truman authorised millions of dollars in financial and military assistance to the French. Would this be considered US military involvement in Vietnam? President Eisenhower gave billions of dollars worth of aid and provided 1500 military advisors to Diem (the leader of South Vietnam) who helped establish the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). He even guaranteed that he would support Diem if he chose not to hold the free elections that had been called for under the Geneva Accords of 1954. Would this be considered involvement? Remember, at this point in time - 1954 - there are no American ‘boots on the ground’. When the French lose at the Battle of Dienbienphu in 1954 and decide to leave Vietnam for good, America already has a financial, military and ideological commitment to the security of South Vietnam. And yet… no war. When JFK, in 1956, gives a speech determining that ‘Vietnam is the place”, is he foreshadowing an increased involvement? When Kennedy becomes the President and increases financial and military assistance, including helicopters and pilot ‘advisers’, authorises the use of Agent Orange and Napalm, increases the number of military ‘advisers’ to 16,000 by 1963, creates the MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam), secretly sends Green Berets, and authorises the Strategic Hamlets Programme, is America involved? Remember, there are still no official US soldiers fighting and there is no Congressionally recognised war. When President Johnson convinces Congress to pass, what was known as, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, authorising presidential discretion in terms of a military response, is America involved? Is it involved at the point at which Operation Rolling Thunder begins, in 1965, bombing the jungles and villages of North Vietnam, dropping more ordinance than was dropped on Europe during the entirety of World War Two in the process? Is it involved when LBJ authorises an escalation of over half a million troops to assist the government of South Vietnam fight against the Vietcong and the Viet Minh? Exhausting, right?
And remember, still no declaration of war by the US Congress.
Thank you for bearing with me. Let me synthesise:
Where does this leave the student of American involvement in Vietnam? It leaves you with an interesting and unique opportunity: you get to choose both the meaning of the word ‘involvement’ and determine the point at which you consider the US to be involved. That’s what is so wonderful about the subject of History: provided you maintain an honest commitment to the evidence, you get to set the parameters of your investigation.
Dr. Elliott L. Watson (@thelibrarian6)
Co- Editor, Versus History