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Q: So, I was asking our unit’s interpreter to help me out with some Arabic words, but he said I already know a thousand, without even knowing it. What’s up with that?

A: Didn’t you know that you speak Arabic? Well, depending on how good your English vocabulary is, you could speak up to 900 words of Arabic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary — the granddaddy of etymology — at least 900 English words are derived or copied directly from Arabic. Some of the words have made their way to the English language through others — Spanish, Italian, French, even Hebrew and Latin. Some of them come directly from the Arabic.

Among the words with Arabic roots:

“Admiral” came from an Arabic word meaning “ruler of the seas.”

“Algebra” came from a word meaning “reintegration.”

“Arsenal” came from “house of making” or “factory.”

And, of course, the word “assassin” comes pretty much directly from Arabic. Though a bit disputed, the most common etymology of the word is that it derived from “hashshashin,” a name for a cult of Islamic warriors (and assassins) around a thousand years ago. The legend goes that Marco Polo wrote about these men and their use of a particular, um, supplement in their fights. Others say the word simply means “followers of al-Hassan,” after Hassan i Sabah, a onetime sheik.

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