Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two etymological updates

Toward the end of August, I blogged about the etymology of the toponym, Pakistan. In the comments, my friend Gary and I discussed what we did and didn’t know about the word ferengi, with its apparent meaning of “foreigner”. Two points to make about this. First, surprisingly, the word (spelled ferenghi) is scattered all through Lloyd Alexander’s latest (and last) novel, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, which I am reviewing for Mythprint. There, it’s used with essentially the same meaning of “foreigner” or more specifically, “European”. Second, I continued to search around for better evidence of the word’s sources and meaning, and I finally found it in a Somali dictionary: “ferenji masculine noun: white infidel, non-Islamic European person.” That is to say, very close indeed to kafir, which we were also discussing.

Then, going all the way back to June, I wrote about the etymology of another toponym, Stonehenge. Funny I would have forgotten this, but Tolkien makes clear his own view in the essay, “English and Welsh”, where he writes:
There stands still in what is now England the ruinous fragment of an ancient monument that we have long called in our English fashion Stonehenge, ‘the suspended stones’, remem­bering nothing of its history. [1]
Isn’t the writing here wonderful? I had mentioned Old English hangian “to hang, suspend” in my discussion, and here we have Tolkien’s agreement with that theory on record. I can’t help but think he would also have liked the Hengest interpretation, as I also wrote at the time. Lucky I came across this while reading the essay again (for another purpose altogether).

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983, p.175.


  1. Lucky I came across this while reading the essay again (for another purpose altogether).

    Isn't serendipity wonderful? :)

  2. It’s one of my favorite research tools. ;)

  3. AFIAK, 'ferenghi' is an Arab or possible Indian corruption of 'Frank', and by extension (Northern) European. For what it's worth, the OED concurs!

  4. Hi Johanna! What else does the OED show? (I don’t have a copy myself.)

    In addition to the Somali word I gave in this post, and the discussion about this word in the earlier post, I’ve since found a little bit more. The apparent original source — though the etymology here is muddled and none too well documented — is Persian (not Arabic, though closely related, and certainly not Indian): فرنگ /farang, firing/ “a Frank, an Italian, European; a Christian; all nations that wear short garments.” That’s a pretty broad brush to paint with, is’t it? :)

    Upon further research, it appears that the word also entered into Tibetan (through a process of sound change) as peling, and into Chinese as fu-lang, fu-lin. No doubt along the trade routes from Europe through the Middle East and into Cathay (China).

    As I said, I’d be curious to know what else the OED says, since I’ve had considerable difficulty in tracking down precise origins and dates for the word.

  5. That's interesting! I'll repost the whole entry (ah, the joys of an institutional subscription to the online edition), although it's not a very long entry:

    "Forms: 6 firingi, 7 fringe, frangee, 8 fe-, firingy, 9 faringee, ferenghi, feringhee; ferangi. [An oriental adoption of FRANK, with Arab. ethnic suffix -i; in Arab. faranj, in Pers. farang.]

    Formerly, the ordinary Indian term for a European; in 19th c. applied esp. to the Indian-born Portuguese, and contemptuously to other Europeans.

    1634 SIR T. HERBERT Trav. 171 A Christian. Frangee. 1638 W. BRUTON in Hakluyt's Voy. (1807) V. 52 The Portugals which they call by the name of Fringes. 1755 HOLWELL in J. Long Select. Rec. Govt. (1869) 59 (Yule) By Feringy I mean all the black mustee Portugese Christians residing in the settlement. 1774 BOGLE in Markham Tibet (1876) 176 Everybody was afraid of the Fringies. c1813 MRS. SHERWOOD Ayah & Lady Gloss., Feringhees, Franks. A name given generally to Europeans in India, and to the descendants of the Portuguese, who first settled in India: these are called Black Feringhees, being remarkably dark. 1834 H. CAUNTER Orient. Ann. v. 60 The unhallowed feet of faringees or Christians. 1866 A. LYALL Old Pindaree iii, in Verses written in India (1889) 2 There goes my lord the Feringhee, who talks so civil and bland. 1919 W. H. DOWNING Digger Dial. 57 Ferangi, European. 1936 F. STARK S. Gates Arabia xv. 162 No Ferangi goes without a servant."

  6. Thanks for the information, Johanna. I had come across references back into the late 19th C., but not earlier, though I suspected they must exist. The OED, then, has antedated the word all the way back to 1807. Very nice to see those details, as well as the alternate forms. I think the OED could have gone into more linguistic detail, but then again, it tends to slight non-western languages somewhat, doesn’t it?

  7. I'l add, very belatedly, the delightful Arabic verb tfarnaj 'to become Westernized', as if F-R-N-J were an ordinary Arabic root. There is also an analogous verb tamrak 'to become Americanized'.