Next time when I say “I love you” to an English-speaking
person I will do so with the reminder that the word “love” is
of Persian origin
August 31, 2005
Father used to say that summer for him began when I arrived in Tehran for the
holidays, the start of which for me was signified by heading to the Caspian littoral.
A big part of the sojourn on the Caspian was Radio Darya, a funky summer-time
radio station with a limited geographical reach but a satisfying and nourishing
fare of demonic domestic and foreign music and satanic on-air pleasantries -- sheer
entertainment. O, who could not fall in love while listening to the epic struggles
of Zangalou, the fisherman of Khazar Sea! I know I did. Or not to seek shelter
in the promise of a youngster’s roadside cry otaq khali, literally a spare
room let to an itinerant.
Naturally, the start of autumn coincided with the muting of Radio
Darya and for father it meant my departure overseas back to school.
In another time longer ago still the start of autumn was more than
just an equinox, it heralded the first day of the school year.
And one would not take inventory of the preceding summer vacation
until the composition teacher demanded an essay on one’s
summer doings. For the habit formed decades ago, I now ask again “What
did you do during summer vacation?”
This summer, I ceased becoming and experienced for the first
time the very essence of just being -- unfettered by parental
expectations and professional requirements, I do only what I please.
Where there is no kind treatment I withdraw my affection without
reserve. I owe nobody any more. The kindnesses I have received
I have repaid in spades.
This summer, I learned that burning bridges at times is even
better than building them. There is a certain freedom that comes
from feeling utter and desperate disconnection; it promotes self-reliance
and growth in a different direction. Will one ever learn to climb
up but for experiencing an un-scalable ravine or insurmountable
monolith? Would one forge ahead in the face of defeat if retreat
were more inviting?
This summer, I learned about love. My friend Maziar Shirazi wrote
a piece [Love
in Persian] and in it he queried if there was in
Persian an equivalent of the word “love” as used in
the “I love you” phrase of the English-speaking world.
Of love, a little later. Maziar’s name epitomizes Iranity:
Maziar [Maz/Muz for mountain + yar] is northern for the more familiar
name Kuhyar, a name whose form Kuhi is current among boys in the
This summer, I realized something about Shiraz as well. The grape
Syrah was in all probability brought to France from Shiraz and
renamed in order not to give up its place of origin to competitors.
A while back an Australian vineyard produced a wine from syrah
grapes and called it Shiraz.
According to WinePros.org, “although
cultivated since antiquity, competing claims to the origin of this
variety gave credit to it either being transplanted from Persia,
near the similarly-titled city of Shiraz or to being a native plant
of France. Starting in 1998, combined research of the University
of California at Davis and the French National Agronomy Archives
in Montpellier proved syrah is indeed indigenous to France. DNA
profiling proved syrah to be a genetic cross of two relatively
obscure varieties, mondeuse blanc and dureza.”
Bull, I say.
Enough of this self-serving French crap. Awaken the DNA of dureza
and watch Hafiz dance. Did not the Faranghi take from the Persian
the fruit and word lemon (limu)?
This summer, I learned about the origin of the word “love.” It
is an Indo-Iranian word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
the English word "love" is derived more immediately from
Old English lufu, luvu, or lubu, which derived from luba of Old
High German. The luba of Old High German derived from leubh,
and libet of Sanskrit and Old Aryan, meaning “pleasing.”
word leubh gave rise to lubido in Old Aryan, which meant libido,
desire. I would think that in Old Persian luvu or lubu would
have existed as a word for love or desire. In the Slavic language
southern Russia, which was influenced by the Median and Scythian
(Saka) languages, the word for love is lubov. The word lobat in contemporary Farsi applies to a beautiful woman and, despite
Arabicization of its orthography, could have derived from libet of Old Aryan/Old Persian. I wonder also if the word lavat (love
between two men, sodomy) too belongs to this group of Sanskrit/Old
Aryan leubh family of words.
The etymological significance of “love” is not found
entirely between the hard cover of a dictionary. To discern the
meaning of the utterance “I love you,” one must look
under the covers, where one whispers this and other sweet-nothings
into the ears of one’s object of seduction. I doubt very
much if the prevailing equivalent practice among the Farsi speakers
is anything other than “dousat daram.” Any term of
endearment derived from the word eshq, mehr or hab while etymologically
correct is not current in ordinary practice. Matters not that the
noun doust itself means friend in the vernacular.
Therefore, next time when I say “I love you” to an
English-speaking person I will do so with the reminder that the
word “love” is of Persian origin.
This summer, I realized also that the word wadi in Arabic is
Persian in origin. It derived from abadi, which in Persian means
a place that has water, a prerequisite to the establishment of
a settlement. The “w” in wadi is the Arabization of
the sound “v” of Old Persian, before it became “b” in
Middle Persian. Come to think of it, I think the word balad, which
means town or settlement in Arabic is the same as vlad in Russian,
raising the probability that balad derived from vlad and this latter
was an Iranian word, as Russian is an Indo-European language.
This summer, I deciphered finally the etymological origin of
the names Abu Musa and Seyri islands in the Persian Gulf. Seyri
(often written incorrectly as Sirri or Serri or Seri) is located
24 miles west of Abu Musa. Seyr Bu Nuair is 50 miles northeast
of Abu Dhabi and Seyr Bani Yas is 100 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi.
The prefix seyr or sir in the island names Seyr Bani Yas (now only
called Yas) and Seyr Abu Nuair signifies a gathering place of the
particular tribal entity, particularly in connection with the pearl
The most plausible explanation for the name of Seyri Island is
that it is a relic of a proto-toponym Seyr-e Bu Sur. It would have
belonged to the family of names Seyr Bani Yas and Seyr Bu Nuair
and would have referred to the place of congregation of tribal
group (Bu Sur) at sea. In Persian, the word seyr, including its
derivative seyr-gah, embodies the notion of excursion. In Arabic
and Persian, the word seyr signifies also a marine or aquatic place
The tribal entity responsible for the proto-toponym (Seyr Bu
Sur) was the Suran, who inhabited the island as fishermen and pearl
divers. The village inhabited by divers (Balad Ghawawis) at the
turn of the 20th obtained its drinking water from a single well
called Bu Sur. The name Bu Sur entered the European cartography
in the latter part of the 1700s, before which Seyri Island was
referred to as Tavem. In 1772 Carsten Niebuhr, who traveled in
the Persian Gulf in 1764, reported the name as Schech Sure (Shaikh
Suri) and Surde (Sur-deh, Sur village). Rigobert Bonne’s
Carte d l’Arabie, du Golfe Persique et de la Mer Rouge (ca.
1780) gave the island name as Le Sur. The English records called
it Surdy before settling on Sirri; the Iranians adapted the name
as Serri, pronounced in the same manner as the word for secret,
The occurrence of Seyr Bani Yas, Seyr Bu Nuair and Seyr Bu Sur
implies that the name of Abu Musa Island derived from the proto-toponym
Seyr Bu Musa. Referred to in the maps of the early 1700s as Maloro,
Niebuhr reported the name as Bumose and in Rigobert Bonne’s
Carte de l’Arabie, du Golfe Persique et de la Mer Rouge (ca.
1780) the name appeared as Abamausa, while in another edition of
the same map it was given as Adamusa. The English records referred
to it as Bomosa until the adoption of Bu Musa. The rare appearance
of the Turkic prefix ada (meaning “island”) is interesting
in that in Turkic practice ada is used as suffix, like in Buyuk-Ada
off Istanbul, Uzun-Ada off Baku or arguably Ashur-Ada in southeastern
There is no shortage of the locative prefix abu in and around
the Persian Gulf. In Arabic and Farsi, the prefix abu (variations:
aba and abi) attached to a masculine proper name connotes a relation
(nisba) in the same sense as the prefix ibn or bin. Among the Persian
speakers, the prefix abu is often contracted as bu. This and a
few remaining shreds of evidence suggest that Abu Musa was probably
a clan belonging to the Maraziq tribe of the Iranian coast.
The Maraziq of the Persian coast were principally in Mughu, Lingeh
and Bostaneh, while on the Arabian littoral they were found predominantly
in Ajman and Oman. The adjectival form of Maraziq is Mazruqi. The
Mazruqi region on the Persian coast referred to a part of the maritime
Lar District, to which belonged Seyri Island. The Maraziq competed
with the Qasemi of Lingeh over Greater Farur, Seyri and Abu Musa
islands and in 1788-89 the Persian governor of the Jahangireh District
mediated the differences among them.
The inhabitants of Seyri Island at the turn of the 20th century
included the Abu Dastur from the Persian coast and they would have
originated from Dastur on the Persian coast, which, according to
Lorimer, was situated 37 miles southeast of Nayband and 10 miles
west of Shivuh on the Shibkuh coast. If Abu Musa were a Mazruqi
or another clan is not indicated. In general, the Arabs of the
Persian littoral from Kangun to Bandar Abbas who did not belong
to any well-known Arab tribe were called Fawars, an example of
which were the Abu Dastur on Seyri.
The Abu Dastur also dove for pearls in the waters near Dalmah,
an island 25 miles northwest of Jabal Dhanna off Abu Dhabi. One
of the pearl banks 4 miles southwest of the island was still called
Abu Dastur at the turn of the 20th century. Another pearl bank,
located 9 miles to the southeast of the island, was called Hawad
Bin-Musammih. This latter is the only confirmation of the existence
of Bu Musa as a tribal entity with sufficient context to be related
to Abu Musa Island. The name Musammih may have derived from one
who was a Musaqqam, which in the pearl trade referred to one who
financed a pearling fleet.
It was not unusual to find a pearl bank named for a distant origin.
At the turn of the 20th century, the pearl bank known as Dhahr-al-Yas
off Dalmah Island lay 33 miles west of Yas Island itself. The Abu
Dastur pearl bank at Dalmah was more than 96 miles from Seyri itself;
the pearl bank named Hawad Bin-Musammih therefore could be related
to the clan so named from an island like Abu Musa 112 miles away.
This summer, I discovered also that etymology is the devil’s
playground, where peaks of sublime and valleys of ridiculousness
punctuate a landscape that is riddled with doubts. Nowhere was
this better in view than in the tongue-in-cheek query of this site’s
esteemed editor that I look into the etymological origin of the
word “doul.” He had heard on a NPR radio program on
4th of July that the word “doodle” in “Yankee
Doodle Dandy” originally meant penis. “Could doodle
be related to the Persian doudoul?” In Farsi, the word doudoul is
the endearing and diminutive form of doul, a boy’s
penis. While many an Iranian mother validates the worth of her
the saying doudoul-tala (golden penis, literally), the
Dehkhoda lexicon gives the meaning of doul and doudoul as
Notwithstanding the tantalizing proximity of doul to tool (which
the English for the Persian alat) there is no etymological connection
between doudoul and doodle. The origin of doodle as used in Yankee
Doodle Dandy is rather obscure, as is by the way the origin of
Yankee and dandy. On the one hand it is said that doodle is a variation
or accompaniment of tootle, which referred to sounding a wind instrument.
If blowing pipes, windbags, or trumpets is your thing, maybe here
is an attenuated link worth cherishing. In another meaning doodle
shows up as naïve, stupid, noodle. Naturally, the limp inherent
in the noodle offers some reference to a softheaded imbecile like
the Yankee Doodle Dandy!
According to Dehkhoda’s lexicon, in Farsi, bouboul is a
synonym for doudoul and I think the synonym offers the explanation
for the origin of doudoul itself. The Farsi bouboul probably derives
from the Arabic boul, which means urine. My favorite explanation
of the term doudoul however is in the Farsi word bandoul, which
refers to a limp and short string hanging off the storage compartment
of a mill; upon pulling it, the door opens and the content pours
This summer, I revisited the origin of Kishm (Qeshm) Island.
Before the arrival of the Portuguese in the Persian Gulf in 1500s,
it was known in Persian and Arabic as the island of Ibn Kawan or “long
island.” The Portuguese re-named it after its produce of
kishmish (raisin), which they wrote in the form of Queixime. Eventually,
the Portuguese name became Qeshm in Persian and Arabic!
The islands off the Oman coast, which the Arabs call Salama and
her two daughters, the Portuguese re-named Quoins, because they
looked like the coin (wedge) that was used to hold in place the
cranked up guns on board a ship. The Persian-Shihuh inhabitants
of Kumzar, who inhabited these islands, called Great Quoin and
Little Quoin as Mumar and Didamar, respectively, which meant “mother” and “daughter” islands
in Kumzari. Didamar had another name, Shanaku, in which ku was
mountain and shana may have referred to a floating or swimming
rock. The island between the two Quoins was known as Fanaku, in
which Fana could have meant perdition, an apt adjective for a rock
situated in a tricky navigation channel covered often in mist.
But then who is to say that fana was not a corruption of pana,
a haven-rock for the shipwrecked!
This summer, I revisited the origin of the place-name Basidu
on the westernmost extremity of Kishm Island. The British used
to call it Bassadore before settling on Basidu, after the Moslem
African practice of adding the sound “u” to a name
as the sign of affection (for example, Mamadu, for Mohammad). Bassadore
was probably the corruption of the name of the local settlement
that was Bandar Singau, which was a corruption of Bandar Sagalou,
which signified the rocky (sangalou) nature of the port (bandar),
literally meaning Rockport.
This summer, I figured out what I did for a living, finally.
I arrived at this moment of self-realization when trying to come
up with an adequate answer for the mundane question “occupation” on
a questionnaire entitled “Biographical Data: Scholars in
Iranian Studies and related Fields.” I wrote in “Lawyer,
Essayist, Artisan, Analyst and Interpreter.” Then I realized
it is not at all about what I do for a living, but rather how I
live. However, with the start of another school year, I still ask
if I am not quite done, yet?
This summer, during one of my solitary drives to Cape Cod, I
came upon WOCN 104 FM. I heard the announcer say “This is
Ocean 104” and I experienced Radio Darya all over again.
Guive Mirfendereski is VP and GC at Virtual Telemetry Corporation
since 2004 and is the artisan doing business as Guy
Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's
College of Arts and Sciences (BA),
Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston
College Law School (JD). He is the author of A
Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea (2001) >>> Features