Ben Zimmer in WSJ on "Boko Haram"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 11 03:57:23 UTC 2014

On Sat, May 10, 2014 at 10:34 PM, W Brewer <brewerwa at> wrote:
> WB:  Googling <littafi>:  <Littafi Mai Tsarki (HAU)> = Hausa Bible.
> Hausa <boko> from English <book>?
> All I can tell from the WSJ article is that missionary George Percival
> Bargery <<listed 11 meanings for "boko," mostly having to do with fraud and
> deceit. For the 11th sense of the word, he just wrote, "(Eng.) Book.">>  It
> does not state that Bargery stupidly derived Hausa <boko> from English
> <book>. Sounds like another case of missionary bashing.  A more logical
> conclusion would be (given the brief evidence here) is that the Hausa heard
> English <book> and folk-etymologically connected it with their word for
> 'fraud, deceit'.

Paul Newman's paper, which is linked to from my WSJ column, gives
further details:

Newman's evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the "book" > "boko"
(false) derivation began with Bargery and was picked up by other Hausa
scholars. There's no evidence whatsoever for a folk-etymological
connection. I confirmed both of these points with Newman via email.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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