Ben Zimmer in WSJ on "Boko Haram"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun May 11 00:18:37 UTC 2014

Nice piece--thanks to Ben, and to Jerry and Christopher.  Although I'm not sure I feel comfortable with "corrupted the root"; I prefer "adapted" or "modified".

Nice to hear from the man we knew at UCLA as *the* Paul Newman. Africanist extraordinaire; I'll take his word for it.  I confess, I don't really know about "littafi" vs. "kitab".  (Adapted into Swahili as "kitabu", plural "vitabu".)


On May 10, 2014, at 5:08 PM, Christopher Philippo wrote:

> On May 10, 2014, at 3:19 PM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at MST.EDU> wrote:
>> Ben Zimmer continues his  weekly very interesting Wall Street Journal column today with an article on  the origin of "Boko" of "Boko Haram." Maybe someone can provide a link to the article.
>> I'm curious about one statement though. “Hausa already had a  well established word for 'book': 'littafi' derived from Arabic."
>> I know no Hausa at all and minimal Arabic.  But I'm aware only of "kitab" as the Arabic word for "book."
>> Arabic does have an L-T-F root meaning "soft, gentle, gracious" (turns up in the female name Latifah; cf. Queen Latifa). Is that the root which provided Hausa "littafi"?
> “Hausa already had a well-established word for ‘book’: ‘littafi,’ derived from Arabic”
> Zimmer, Ben. “The Words For a Ruthless Insurgency.” Wall Street Journal. May 9, 2014.
> “Derived from” is pretty vague.  Maybe the root is لـطـف or it could be something else entirely.  How did English ever render masjid as mosque or Maghrib as Morocco for example?  Hausa could similarly have corrupted the root beyond easy recognition.
> Paul Newman or Ben Zimmer might be the best ones to ask.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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