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Mongrel Words

1. Originally from the Persian, this word signifying “a company of travelers” journeyed to France with the crusaders and lodged itself in English by 1600. In modern times its diminutive has morphed into something closely associated with soccer moms.

2. From the Sanskrit meaning “speckled,” this term for brightly printed and glazed cotton cloth became the rage in Victorian décor. By the 1850s, as an adjective, it had come to represent all things “suburban, unfashionable, petit-bourgeois, cheap.”

3. This word for a violent tempest (not to be confused with a similar-sounding tag for the rich and mighty, derived from “great lord” in Japanese) traces its roots to the Arabic for “to turn around,” or possibly to the Cantonese syllables signifying “big wind.”

4. This Hebrew word meaning “firm, sure, true” needs no translation in any language; it has been intoned by pious Britons since the Middle Ages.

5. Our name for this plant derives from Taino, the language of the Arawakan Indians of Haiti. Encountering these “most delicate rootes” in 1564 en route to Florida, British slave trader John Hawkins noted that they “doe far exceede our passeneps or carets.”

6. Hindi for “belonging to Bengal,” this word, in English, came to stand for a style of summer house associated with California architecture of the early 1900s.

7. It isn’t hard to imagine how this word, derived from the Arabic “to paint,” came to represent a fine metallic powder used to stain eyelids. But how it became associated with red cheeks and noses in the 1500s requires a grasp of basic chemistry.

8. In Persian it means “leg garment.” Worn by both sexes in Turkey, Iran and India, it was adopted by 17th-century Europeans as exclusively an article of deshabille for men.

9. Derived from the Sanskrit word for “learned,” it originally referred to a Hindu scholar versed in the philosophy, religion and jurisprudence of India. In English parlance, it has come to mean a source of opinions – frequently heard on TV.

10. An essential accessory for ’60s flower children and the ubiquitous work-product of summer campers, this fringe of coarse, knotted cord stems from the Turkish word for “towel,” which in turn originates from the Arabic, “to gnaw.”

11. This evil spirit was believed, in Muslim lore, to rob graves and prey on human corpses. Few trick-or-treaters realize the root, from Arabic, means “to snatch.”



1 caravan (dim: minivan)

2 chintz (adj: chintzy)

3 typhoon (similar-sounding but unrelated word: tycoon)

4 amen

5 potato (also acceptible: cassava)

6 bungalow

7 alcohol (root: kohl)

8 pajamas

9 pundit

10 macramé

11 ghoul