Confessions of a Farsiholic

Reviewing a one-word epic


Confessions of a Farsiholic
by Ari Siletz

The first time I was fined for saying “Farsi” instead of “Persian” I didn’t fight the ticket because back then the action was all about French. French fries had become “Freedom” fries, ruining a flavorful shortcut to khoresh-e-gheimeh. Flag wavers claimed fried potatoes sliced lengthwise should never have been called French fries in the first place. There were “chips” to go with fried fish in England as early as 1864. Surely the US adopting fries in the 1930s, should have named this calorie bomb after her freedom-loving ally, and not after folks who would leave Iraqis in peace.

The Francophile in me worried that the logic of Iran experts who said the term “Farsi” broke ties with prestigious Persia, could also apply to French culture. I was nervous that Freedom fries, instead of French fries, would confuse historians as to the location of the Louvre and the nationality of Inspector Clouseau. If this renaming becomes a trend, I fussed, Americans would no longer think of Descartes when they eat French toast, or of Voltaire when they look out of French windows. Cardinal Richelieu would never again leap to mind as soon as anyone stuck a tongue in someone else’s mouth.

In this crisis, I reached out to an abridged history of the potato, which tentatively placed fries in Paris in 1840, almost a quarter of a century before the first chips greased the streets of London. I could go back to enjoying khoresh-e- gheimeh without feeling a party to the looting of Iraq’s civilization. More importantly, American English could begin reversing its Orwellian decline.

Throughout this time, though, I kept falling off the “Persian” wagon. Supportive friends promised that love would eventually come to my arranged marriage with this word. Yet I philandered with “Farsi,” and English cheerily egged me on. She gets a kick out of making her speakers and writers squabble. For example, did I tell you about the black eye I got over Star Trek’s “To boldly go where no man has gone before?” English has been on red alert status since the original sci-fi series first came out in the sixties. Is it correct English to insert the adverb “boldly” between “to” and “go?” I was in the coalition that said even in the 23rd century Captain Kirk had no right to split his infinitives. He should have said, “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” We thought we had the opposition finally outgunned, when Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker suddenly decloaked in front of us.

In his book, The Language Instinct, Pinker explained the origin of the taboo against split infinitives, making our side look very silly. Showing off your Latin was a sign of good education in England, and in Latin you can’t split the infinitive even if you wanted to. Latin infinitives are like Farsi “raftan.” Where can you put “boldly” in “raftan?” Surely not “raft boldly an!” But natural English does allow us to boldly split infinitives. So for years over-educated English academics had unnecessarily disfigured their beautiful language with the syntax of Cicero.

The Language Instinct, more than histories of the potato, transformed my lust for the word “Farsi” from a sin to a fact of nature. Though Pinker focuses on English grammar rather than word usage and doesn’t mention Farsi, his book exposes the organic, dynamic, and inborn aspects of human language. Pinker’s work made me think that the English language has adopted “Farsi” for natural reasons, not because Iranians have passed on a bad habit to English speakers.

To find out why English speakers feed “Farsi” but shoo away “Persian,” I spoke with American novelist and prolific short story writer Elliot Fintushel. Fintushel’s prose should never be taken with other amphetamines, but this ultra-modern writer has a subconscious so close to his normal awareness that he can explain why he does or doesn’t choose a particular word. By the way, he knew nothing about The Farsibition when I phoned him.

Ari: "Hello Elliot, what do you think of when I say, 'The Persian language?'”

Fintushel: "Well, uh…Sanskrit!"

This educated and worldly American writer prefers “Farsi” to “Persian” because his image of historic Persia is at odds with his modern interactions with Iranians. He says “Farsi” because his mind can no longer put Iran in a museum. Television, globalization, immigration, Youtube, cheap travel, all conspire to break the “Persian” display glass for him. While the culture of Sohrab allows the old to kill the young, Fintushel ‘s Oedipal culture has no qualms against slipping the dagger of novelty deep into Rostam’s heart. “Persian” withers, “Farsi” flowers. English sighs, remembering her own virgin days when brave men called her “Angelisc.”

As for the Iranian speaker of English, there are also natural reasons why “Persian” sounds like a trademark and “Farsi” the real thing.

First, developmentally. “Farsi” is what our moms said our language was called, and if English wants to imitate us, then she has realized—perhaps by sensing our adamancy—that “Persian” is no longer the right word. Remember, until recently English didn’t have much contact with Iranians except through our classical culture. Never mind that the French don’t use their own word for their language when they speak English. Fintushel’s tongue isn’t allergic to “French” but he does break out in hives with “Persian.” The word “French” doesn’t fight his reality of who the French people are; “Persian” does! Thankfully, the ultimate authority on American English has baptized “Farsi” into the English language and here’s a link that swears to it.

Webster also says that the English word “Persian” primarily refers to ANY of the SEVERAL Iranian languages dominant in Persia. Iranians who tell hapless Webster-toting Americans that they speak Persian are suggesting they may be fluent in several languages including Tajik, Dari and Judeo-Bukharic.

Secondly, there is an organic link between words and voice/body gesturing. Here’s a revealing test for Iranian-American writers and poets: with which concept do you best associate the following sounds? Aakh, oho, evaa, ah’, vaay, digeh, bah’, baabaa. Imperial Persian or Farsi e khodemooni? The interjection I most associate with “Persian” is comedian Maz Jobrani’s famous “meow".

Third, mechanically. Farsi rolls off the tongue better than “Parsi,” or “Persian.” The “P” sound is a sudden plosive consonant; “F” is a smooth fricative, takes less force. In an onomatopoeic sense (the closeness of a sound to its intended meaning), Farsi may reflect our subtler post-Empire maturity better than “Parsi.” Sure, Arabic voice mechanics changed “Parsi “to “Farsi,” but why didn’t it change “Paarsaal” to “Faarsaal?” Yes, we were flattering Arab administrative jargon, but there must have also been a social advantage in the consonant change that somehow served the common speaker. This advantage may not exist today—whatever it was—but it was there. To speculate as to what this utility may have been, poetic ears may notice there is an inclusivity of regional sounds in the lovely name “Khalijeh Fars” that is lost in its unrealistically exclusive—and bumpy-- translation, “Persian Gulf.” When I contemplate why “F” and no longer “P,” I hear songs, not battle cries. I see pens, not swords.

Finally, there are patriotic aspects to using the term “Farsi.” Ironically this has to do with our protective feelings for our classical literature. To an Iranian writing in English, it feels unfair to allow Greece at the height of its splendor to name a language that eventually surpassed Greek in poetic expressiveness. When Herodotus was calling us Persians (Persikos) none of Iran’s classical poets had been born to measure up to Homer, Hesoid and Sappho. But some centuries later, 300 Khayaams kicked ass against a million Greeks. “Persian” reflects Hellenistic cultural supremacy; “Farsi” starts the clock when we had our strongest claim to high culture, documented by our own historians.

In our day-to-day experience “Persian” covers just a small subset of the Farsi that buzzes around our ears. Colloquially we may call it Farsi e Aflaatooni. But this Persian of the distinguished Yarshater, Davis and Nicholson is just one bee in the bustling hive of contemporary Farsi. In fact the other bees are so busy making up new words for modern nuances, they sometimes steal from other languages. Young people occasionally use the English word “money” when they covet a hard-to-afford luxury, and the traditional “pool” when they buy gum. They use the English “number” for digits that dial a date, and the old “shomareh” when they call their parents. Among a different group, the Arabic proper name “Zeid,”--Farsi equivalent of “some dude”-- now also comes with a Russian suffix: “Zeidowfski!"

Sometimes there is ethnic influence. "Daaf" for girl is Kalimi Farsi, so is “Zaakhaar” for “boy,” occasionally meaning, ”mate” in the Australian sense. There are new descriptive verbs like “Yazeed shodan” as in to suddenly explode into anger—from a mean character in Shiite plays—but we also have “love tarakaandan” for public display of affection.

Haveej is used for street cleaners—refers to uniform color, as does kaaktus for police. BBC can be a spy or a cell phone. To this add the journalistic and technical vocabulary factories that coin Farsi expressions daily like the Feds print money, making my Farsi dictionary as useless as a stack of dollars. One Nobel Prize winner throws around words like faraa ravesh (methodology) and shahrvand (citizen). Remind me, which Persian dynasty popularized the word shahrvand? If all this activity makes your head spin, you need a daroon paalaa (exorcist).

In this dynamic linguistic community, I speak a variant that could be termed "Farsi e Dolaari." Yet I am aware that there are Javaads, Ghazanfars, Manijehs and Shahlaas stuck in Tehran traffic in their Jaaroo barghee (vacuum cleaner), jaa saaboni (soap dish), and pejhoo kaarmandi (Dilbert mobile). They watch film e aamoozeshi(over 21 “documentaries”) and spend esken, money, peel, maayeh.

There are narm afzaar (software) geeks kleeking away on their raayaanehs (computers) building taarnamaas (websites). After I explain to Fintushel about the double entendre in daroon gozaasht (input) and beeroon daad (output), you would have to drag him to Egypt and waterboard him before he gives up “Farsi” for a word that conjures up Sanskrit to his readers.

To be sure in academic circles where precision is more important than expressiveness, “Persian” is an indispensable technical term. But should Persian literature academics dictate to English speaking writers, poets, casual speakers, standup comics, or rappers, which English words are allowed? Would they bully little Luke on Valentine’s Day if he’s hard up for something to rhyme with “Marcy?” The attempt reveals a disappointing absence of communication with the social science building next door where they study how communities create and use language. The intrusion of our culture’s dictatorial vices into the common man’s English is ungracious, whereas our tolerant and humble flip side is magnetic.

The marketing approach, promoting “Persian” as a brand name, has been harmful to Iran’ s sincere modern culture. For example, my interview with contemporary Iranian-American playwright Sepideh Khosrowjah rankled a commenter who was frustrated about the article’s use of the term “Farsi.” This commenter obviously has an interest in the arts or he/she wouldn’t have read the piece. In the spirit of this shared love, I propose we redouble our efforts in encouraging our living cultural treasures, even as we struggle to rescue our threatened antiquity. Artists like Khosrowjah wield a formidable language. They contribute to one day making “Farsi” as prestigious as “Persian.”

The commenter asks rhetorically if my use of “Farsi” has a political motive.

You bet!


Some notes:

1.For an informative and entertaining study on Tehrani Farsi vernacular see Farhag va Loghaateh e Zaban Makhfi, by Dr. Seid Mehdi Samaai.

2.The touching and beautiful Zoroastrian Gathas do compete with, and arguably transcend, ancient Greek poetry, but their number is few in comparison and their subjects limited to devotional concerns.

3.To explore why Greeks had historians and pre-Islamic Iranians had only mytholgy, see anthropologist Donal E. Brown's work on hereditary caste societies.


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Touche, Ari

by Tonya (not verified) on

As an innocent (and fascinated) bystander, I have to say that this is by far the most entertaining blog I've read on thus far.  I too am looking for the "simple questions" put forth by Kiwi.  When posted and/or explained, I have no doubt they will provide more fodder for your clever responses.  As risk of being criticized (again), all I can say is "Dude... you rock!" 

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Your screen name, "It's not Newzealandi, it's called English" is too long to address. "Kiwi" is a term NewZealanders proudly use to nickname themselves, domestically and internationally. Just as in common English we have affectionately nicknamed our language "Farsi," after our own word for our language.  Here are some Kiwis being very pleased with who they are:


I'm glad we've finally agreed to disagree. It is a much better state of affairs than mutual suspicion. Too bad your avatar was a fish, and your screen name not your real name (I hope). When attempting to convince others of possible ulterior motives in someone,  it is an advantage for the critic to identify him/herself to the reader. Just a friendly hint. Well OK, a parting shot!


Ari Siletz



On your point in your

by It's not Newzealandi, it's "English" (not verified) on

On your point in your comment

"The above article argues only for the freedom of English speakers to say "Farsi" without someone jumping down their throats about it."

I always agreed with this point on not "jumping down people's throats", no disagreement there.

But when you write comments such as

"But the name of the English language is not being debated"

Why not? I question your intentional, and strangely selective double standard. If you care, then why is your care based on a double standard? This is the main issue that I disagreed with you.

I expressed my opinion and you yours, we agree on one point, and have a major disgareement on another very important point, namely selectively attempting & trying to justify to change the name of a certain language in English only, while turning a blind eye towards ALL the other languages, including the name English itself (the strange double-standard which deserved to be pointed out and questioned).

By the way, what was this "Kiwi" all about? should I have addressed you with such names also?

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Try Googling "Farsi Speaking" vs. "Persian Speaking" with quotes around the phrases. This way you get the words as they appear together. Doing it without the quotes, tallies events that include "PERSIAN food" in the same doucment as "SPEAKING Chinese." Hopefully our stats guru, will chime in again with some insightful methodology as to how to use google to estimate the frequency of usage.

Your question no. 1: As far as I know, no petition has been made to the UN to change the official English name of Iran's language from "Persian" to "Farsi." I would not support such a position, for purely practical reasons. It would wreak a co$tly havoc on international legal affairs, anywhere from political treaties to trade agreements.

The above article argues only for the freedom of English speakers to say "Farsi" without someone jumping down their throats about it. If by some circumstance the issue of "English" vs. a more ethnically inclusive term comes up, I will probably take sides on the issue depening on the reasons (including politics). But as far as I know there is no such controversy about English at this time.

 In the United States for example, the controversy is whether or not other languages (Spanish) should also be official languages--a far more serious affair. But the name of the English language is not being debated.

Please state your second question.


This is not an ethnically

by It'sd not Newzealandi, it's "English" (not verified) on

This is not an ethnically based subject, quite contrary to what those who don't know much about this subject want to trun it into. The name change is very damaging, whatever it has been called in English (Persian, Ahvazi, Baluchi, etc.) should not be changed in English, and much more importantly there isn't a solid reason to change it (refer to my comments on the names of other languages not being changed by some in Hollyowwod and certain mass media executives). This doesn't have anything to do with English or any other languages being Sanskrit based, and having Latin words, and in the case of Persian, having Arabic words in them.

This is an ugly game by some very prejudiced, and also by some ethno-centric persons. What obviously lacks in their effort in their spins, is reason.

Ari, question no.1 (if you would like to respond):

Based on your effort in explaining your jusitification for your position and insistence, the name of ALL languages should be changed in English. And the first to be changed should be the name of "English" itself. Based on your comment, don't you "care" for all the people who "are not ethnically English" in countries which their main language is "English"?

Question no.2: Why is there no effort by caring people like you and some in Hollyoowd and some in mass media to change the names of English, French, and Spanish into new and unfamiliar names?

(I will repeat my other questions from my previous comments, to follow later)


Nice excuses for not

by It's not Newzealandi, it's "English" (not verified) on

Nice excuses for not answering the clear questions Ari.

Are you still trying to find the questions which I asked in response to your comments? or did you decide that in order to save face, you would label them as all rhetorical?

Perhaps later today, I will re-write and will post them one at a time per message, so you won't be confused.

I'm still laughing at the spin you tried to put on this subject, quote:

"To find out why English speakers feed “Farsi” but shoo away “Persian", ”

"English is wisely responding to Iran's real ethnic makeup by changing an exclusive term to a more representative, democratic, and peaceful word".

What a spin. Ari, what about the names English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, etc..... Why don't you care for those names to be changed per your reasoning, but for the name of Iran's langauge in English ONLY? (now try to respond by trying to put more spins)

By the way, I did a search at Google Suggest for -speaking Persian-, and also for -speaking farsi-, and the results were contrary to what was claimed about Farsi having more.


Why is there so much Arabic in Persian

by Anonymous342341234 (not verified) on

Again you are completely missing the point. It is because of people like yourself who for certain motives throughout history have insisted on using the foreign terms instead of the correct Persian. That is why Persian is such a mish mash today.

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

See the Saad'i poem contributed by Anonymous4523452345 to dispute the article's position. I count at least 4 Arabic based words in it, yet this mish mash as you call it, has produced some of the greatest poetry the world has ever known.


I leave it to Saadi to answer you

by Anonymous4523452345 (not verified) on

چو آب می​رود این پارسی به قوت طبع
نه مرکبیست که از وی سبق برد تازی


Parsi is not old

by Anonymous2121 (not verified) on

You are wrong so is your American writer friend. Parsi is not an ancient term, nor is it form the museums. It shows a complete lack of understanding of Iranian culture and history or the history of the Iranian languages.

Your whole argument seems to be that in either English or Persian we should give in to what is popular and vulgar. While languages do evolve what your prospose to do, which is to accept something merely on the basis of its popularity is why Farsi is in such a mess today (a mish mash of which 90% is Arabic).

Ari Siletz

For Farsi Speaker

by Ari Siletz on

Nice catch on the Google "data", stats whiz! May your sharp eye for biased polling help elect your candidate.


Farsi is the popular choice

by FARSI SPEAKER (not verified) on

The information you provided through google search is absolutely uncontextual. This is a discussion about the usage of two different names to refer to a language, where the web search would count the usage of Persian on e-bay to sell carpets, on purebread cat adoption websites, online singles posting in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and web transcripts of the screen play for "300," perhaps the most out of context use of the word "Persian" in reference to anything. There are 8,430,000 references to Persian Gulf alone.Only 197 entries for Farsi gulf. Almost a million for Persian cat, whoever heard of a farsi cat? As to googling Persian language vs. Farsi language that’s also cheating. No one says farsi language they just say farsi. How about googling “speaking Farsi” 11,900 vs. “speaking persian” 7230.

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Speedy luck to your dissertation. This is an urgent area of research for modern Iran in our current identity crisis.   A popularized version of the thoughts could become a bestseller in some circles.

Khodadad Rezakhani


by Khodadad Rezakhani on

Oh, I am not leaving anywhere, I am just not arguing anymore. As for your hidden side which is trying to "vindicate" ancient Iranians of the lapse. Without wanting to sound cocky, but you would have to wait for the prologue of my to-be-written dissertation!:) I can just tell you that there is no lapse, and ancient Iranians need not be vindicated. Leb wohl...

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

There's no shortage of questions in the various duplicates of your original comment, but they all appear rhetorical.If there is a question where you really feel you haven't already figured out your own answer, please single it out (in one or two sentences, if possible),and I would be happy to respond.

Also, you seem to lack real ammo for your point of view, relying on conspircacy theories. Boring! There's an ammo clip hidden in the comments in this webpage that may make your game a lot more interesting.



Ari Siletz

English not Kiwi:

by Ari Siletz on

You write, "I asked a very simple question." But I'm having a tough time finding it. I see a tangle of questions and commentaries in your text. If you would care to untangle them and extract the specific quesion I will be encouraged to answer.


Ari, What does this effort

by Ti's not Newzealndi, it's called English (not verified) on

Ari, What does this effort and statement of yours have to do with the name of this specific language in English? nothing. Are you intentionally trying to spin issues?

"The newly popularized/repopularized Farsi words mentioned in this article clearly indicate that Iranian speakers are fighting for their cultural heritage quite successfully."

"Fighting"? are you trying to create division and hatred among "Iranian speakers"?

I asked you very simple questions, and you tried very hard in evading them.

The name of this language has not been changed, it is the same and is Persian, in English. Do you agree or are we going to see more spinning replies , "look, pooyesh, ravesh, therefore, we should change the name of this language ONLY in English, into different new unfamliar names".

You claim that due to the fact that all Iranians are not ethnically or racially the same, the name should be changed to "Farsi" in English. Your reasoning is commical, and deep down you yourself know it. Now keep on acting.

But You have focused ONLY on Persian but not on all the other languages which people of different ethncities use them. Why is that?

As an example why isn't there an attempt by some to change the name of French into several new and different names per country, which their main language is French?

You claim that you care for "modernization" of the name of the Persian language in English, but you don't have the same concern for the names Jewish and Hebrew and Yiddish being "modernized", WHY? Don't you care for the Hebrew & Yiddish speakers? But you supposedly only care for the name of Iran's language in English being changed into different new and unfamiliar names.

The very important question is this, why is the name of Iran's language singled out by certain supposed and self-proclaiming "modern-caring" luminaries only? and not the names of many other languages, based on their supposed "caring" position?

Another one of your spins, you commented "English is wisely responding to Iran's real ethnic makeup by changing an exclusive term to a more representative, democratic, and peaceful word".

The "English language" is not responding to any such nonsense, and you do not represent "English". Why do you want to leave the impression that this effort is beyond people like you and some of those hollywood and mass media execs.? Should we chalk up all your justificatiaons as just innocent mistakes and not knowing better? or are you trying very hard to deliberatly spin issues?

Ari Siletz

For khodadaad

by Ari Siletz on

Sorry you are leaving the forum, Your comments were thoughtful and informative. I was hoping you would come back with the alternative defintion of history that you have in mind. I am sincerely curious, as part of me aches to vindicate ancient Iranians regarding this apparent lapse.

Ari Siletz

Cosi’s Mom,

by Ari Siletz on

Thank you for sharing your experience of multi-linguism in the United States. Reading your comment I was struck by your discussion of the international implications of the word “American.” Your pet peeve regarding “American” is fascinating in this context, because it seem you would prefer a word that identified your nationality more specifically. You are not Canadian or Latin American, so why are people calling you after the whole continent? As you have seen above (and below),  we Iranians are debating exactly the opposite peeve, some preferring “Persian” which suggests a larger geographic region that modern Iran.

I know people from African nations get miffed when you ask them if they're from Africa. "Africa is not a country!"an Ethiopian once chided me. And of course I had to buy her dinner.

Khodadad Rezakhani


by Khodadad Rezakhani on

I am amazed at how much negativity my comments drew. I should probably retreat. Neither I nor anyone else is in a position to tell anyone how to speak. Have fun, who cares? As long as you can show that you are "not and Arab and don's speak Arabic", apparently the only way now people define themselves. "Who are you?"... "I am NOT an Arab".


Versus vs. Versus

by Leil-zilla (not verified) on

I must say that I am impressed with the level of intellectual prowess I see in this here Norouz (or Nawriuz, per your dial-ethnic categorization) Day (Is that redundant? Shall we take a linguistic or mathematic approach? Is it even spelled right? Does spelling even “apply” here?) debate, at which you are a mastur, Khodi.
“Rouzi biya be kolbeye maa, az rahe” your academic fort on the heights of some holy, and fought over no doubt, mountain and join us “salt of the earth” type for a discussion about language, as a living breathing thing, in a cozy “ghahve-khaneh,” in which I challenge you to find a drop of coffee, or stay there until you have convinced the proprietor to rename their establishment. Then, the only citing you’ll be concerned with will be the one on your car.
Sure, Germans don’t use Deutsch vaayl espeeking eengilisi. However, when discussing the “cultural integration” of brown into white, the cultural integration of brown into white, we must discuss, young Luke. (Rather than white into white; would you like some milk with that cream?). Do all-yallz have a “political agenda” when you fail to mention how people of Hispanic decent (ones previously displaying NO signs of an accent while speaking English) seem to roll their R's for eternity when using, lets say, "tortilla", in an otherwise [completely] English sentence. Or how a Caucasian correspondent of Free-Speech Radio, for example, reporting from the middle-east interjects "Ghidthz-zah" into their "English" report as if their umbilical chord was severed by a scimitar amongst a heard of Camels.
Personally, I use both Farsi and Persian, and mostly find myself using them (and needing to use them) together, often in reference to one another. It’s not a matter of me being surrounded by idiots, or that people really “should” know more or know better, or [insert your favorite nostalgic ethno-narcissistic justification here] or to use this as an opportunity to criticize the quality of education in public schools (-for their failure to reflect/include, with any acceptable degree of accuracy, our ancient and majestic “Per-zhi-yan, meow” heritage in their curriculum, none the less.) For me, it’s about telling people where I’m from and what language I speak, without them simultaneously thinking of cats and carpets. You (the reader, especially if you’ve been abroad for thirty years and have no non-Iranian friends/network/community) would find yourself doing that more often if you left your Irano-centric comfort zone less infrequently.
Have in mind, you can call a tree what you like. It won’t affect the quality of its shade. And also have in mind, if you describe the tree with arboreal exactitude, however fail to convey to your audience what you’re talking about, you have failed the purpose for which you’ve opened your mouth, and perhaps even wasted the air you just ingested.
Feel free to resort to some kind of Arabo-Israeli conspiracy theory which aims to propagate the use of Farsi, perhaps even as a “launching mechanism” for their greater plan to get global recognition for “Arabian Gulf,” but I stand with Ari in Farsi vs. Farsaal, Firarsaal, and Fas-Firarsaal.
I do feel a certain sense of pride in the fact that the collective “we” are enthusiastically discussing this topic, but it’s hardly the biggest of our problems, or a critical issue. Even if there is a right and wrong (albeit, academic) what do we have to gain from proving it? Sure, I’d like to self righteously educate new people I meet about how and how not to address me. But quite frankly, as long as they understand I’m not Arab and I don’t speak Arabic, I don’t care what they do or don’t know, or how they really feel about the middle-east. I throw out both, and Farsi tends to stick more, and trigger more relevant recollections, leading to less questions I have to answer with a “no” and a polite smile.
I’d tell yall that you’re barking up the wrong tree. But you’re barking up a telephone pole.
I hope that in the new year, with health and prosperity for all, we can harness our skills, passion and patriotism to locate, and consequently take a bite out of, the bigger picture.
But in an era where Sunni and Shiite Arabs are killing each other over 3 times vs. 5 times, water poured from wrist vs. from elbow, symbolically rinse vs. methodically wash, etc, it’s of little surprise that Iranians are “shaakh-o-shoone”ing for each other, over relatively irrelevant issues, with such remarks as “I somehow knew that you or someone else will bring on the old anecdote about language vs. dialect” which sounds like something Dayi-jon Napoleon would say before rolling a joft-sheesh.


I speak Farsi

by Anonymous2008 (not verified) on

Ari, as usual, you make a lot of sense. I always use "Farsi" since it is the logical term to refer to our language. Also why some of our friends think that any word with a "F" in it is automatically Arabic? we always had F in our words prior to the Arab invasion. So, Parsi or Farsi it is OK with me, never Persian.


Hi Ari, Your article is

by Cosi's Mom (not verified) on

Hi Ari,

Your article is beautifully written and very thought provoking.
While I don’t profess to profoundly comprehend all the issues that are important to the Iranian community in this debate, I’m bilingual in English and Spanish and have studied French and Latin. I have always been fascinated by vicissitudes involved in the evolution of languages, and particularly by the process whereby new and foreign words are incorporated. As examples, both “lonche (derived from “lunch”) and “troque” (from “truck”) are not words typically found in a Spanish dictionary, however they are commonly used here in California by native Spanish speakers.

With reference to the use of language as a way of identifying a culture or a people, a personal pet peeve of mine is the use of the word “American” to describe people of the United States. Why aren’t we “United Statesians”? In many if not most languages “American refers to Canadians and Latin Americans, as well as people from the United States. Other languages have a term for “United Statesian”. Spanish for example uses the word “Estadounidense.” Is there a political agenda here? Probably not. The good, old USA just hasn’t been around here long enough to work out the kinks!

Another example of the vagaries of language is the use of “Australian” for the “Australian Shepard”. The Australian Shepard is not from Australia, but is in fact a breed developed in the United States. I have it on good authority – my Australian sister-in-law had never heard of an Australian Shepard until she moved to the United States!

Frankly, I find the debate over the use of Farsi versus Persian fascinating. I think it’s significant that there is more at issue than “tomahto/tomato” or linguistic correctness.
Certainly culture, history and politics, play a considerable role. But ultimately I fear, majority consensus, will determine the outcome. Common use usually wins. Consider all the words that have been dropped from any given language (or have had their significance changed): we never “woo” our girlfriends any more and in Spanish, “rompecabezas” are now “puzles” (puzzles).

Ari Siletz

Farsi is fighting back!

by Ari Siletz on

The newly popularized/repopularized Farsi words mentioned in this article clearly indicate that Iranian speakers are fighting for their cultural heritage quite successfully. To emphasize, which of these words do not sound like they could come right out of a modern Shaahnaameh?

Payaam = Message


Payaam Negaar= E-mail,

Jahaan Negar = Internet

Fax=Door negar or Namaabar


History= Doodeman

span = Gostaresh ,daamaneh

Search = Pooyesh

Picture = Negaareh

Behaviorism=Raftaargeraie , raftara negaari

Dynamic = Pooya

Static = Ista


structure = Saakhtari , 

unstructured= naa-saakhteyafteh

loght = vaajheh

characteristic = vijhegi

If we let a word be defined by its writers, poets, speech makers, bathroom-wall scrawlers, engineers, khaastegaars, philosophers, teenage phone calls, then it will reward you with the right politics, just as a free market rewards you with a better economy. To me the English word “Farsi” says among other things, “Be careful over-indulging your patriotism. It could be used against you.”


It really is sad

by Rostam too lazy to sign in (not verified) on

It really is sad and mad:

That we Iranians are the only ones responsible for destroying our own language and alienating the other Iranian nations. It really is beyond belief that we absolutely insist on brining Tazi words into our language to the extent that the foreign words become supreme (Parsi vs Farsi).

Farsi is an Arabic term.

Also what right do we have to insist on other nations to impose a new word for our language when they have used their own terms for centuries? Does any German insist on Deutsch instead of German (Farsi in English instead of Persian)?

Ari Siletz

Use the Force

by Ari Siletz on

You are a linguistic Jedi, so search within yourself, Luke. How is it that you are so Mr. Monk when it comes to linguistics, but hand-wave the abysmal absence of method when it comes to ancient Iran’s recording of our history? Now I am curious as to what your ideas are as to what constitutes history. Sure things happened to us, but what of our collective consciousness of these events. I’m sure you can see how this has a bearing on the “Farsi-Persian” debate.

Also, my article readily concedes your technical points when it says, “To be sure “Persian” is an indispensable TECHNICAL term…” The question the article poses is whether or not it is OK for technicians to impose words on writers, poets, sleazy pick-up liners etc, the precision of whose craft depends on nuance?

Happy Nowrooz


Ari, You have focused only

by It's not Newzealandi, it's called English (not verified) on


You have focused only on Persian but not on all the other languages which people of different ethncities use them. Why?

Based on your effort in explaining your (sorry but the word you used is very appropriate here) "shekami" jusitification for your position and insistence, the name of ALL languages should be changed in English. And the first to be changed should be the name of "English" itself. Based on your comment, don't you "care" for all the people who "are not ethnically English" in countries which their main language is "English"? As it is clear, you ARE hurtng Iranians, so are the very prejudiced handful of influential senior execs. in Hollywood and in some mass media who have directed the name "farsi" to be used in their films and TV programs and news articles, instead ot the correct name of Persian.

Based on your twisting arguments and trying to make a racist and ethnic fissure among Iranians, tells me you are not being sincere.

You commented "English is wisely responding to Iran's real ethnic makeup by changing an exclusive term to a more representative, democratic, and peaceful word".

English is not responding to anything, it is people like you who try to weaken Iran (knowingly or unknowingly) from any and all angles, even trying to cut her off from her ancient heritage and history. In the English language, "Persian" is the name of the language and it has not changed, why do you want to leave the impression that this effort is beyond people like you and those hollywood and mass media execs.? Should we chalk up all your justificatiaons as just innocent mistakes and not knowing better?

Why did you refrain from answering my questions, about the names of many other languages? Are they "ethnically" correct? of course not.

As an example why isn't there an attempt by some to change the name of French into several new and different names per country, which their main language is French?

You don't have the same concern for the names Jewish and Hebrew and Yiddish being "modernized", but you only care for the name of Iran's language in English being changed into different new and unfamiliar names (while they are the same language and is called Persian in the English language for centuries).

The very important question is this, why is the name of Iran's language singled out by certain supposed and self-proclaiming "modern-caring" luminaries only? and not the names of many other languages, based on their supposed "caring" position for Iranians only???????

Khodadad Rezakhani


by Khodadad Rezakhani on

I forgot to say something about your interesting description of Webster's dictionary. Ambrose Bierce said something funny about lexicographer once, something to the effect that Lexicographers are poor blokes who in the process of recording a living language, create words and concept frozen in time and rigid to use, essentially paralysing its progress. Thought you might like it. But my problem was not with the process of collecting words, the way you describe it, and I did not refere to the word being wrong, but the description. In the process of entering the word "Persian" to the dictionary, the editors of Websters had not just entered the word, but they had also defined it, and you gave us the description. Now, if the issue was that "Persian" is a word that is used in the English language and thus extracted and recorded by Websters, I would have not had any problems. As you said, if I claimed that is wrong, then I would go to battle with the English language, although I fancy that the latter is not a very fierce opponent, but I digress. The issue is that Websters defined the word, and I have not checked the Websters (I personally use OED), but you gave it to us. Now, unless you tell me that the editors of the Websters went and actually also took a poll from those cafes and menus and newspapers and people on how they "define" the word Persian, I would imagine that the "description" of the word comes from the editors, not the speakers of the language from which the word was recorded (English). As such, that description is wrong, I content, since it is a matter of linguistics and has a precise description, and that is that Persian does not refer to many languages, but one language, with many known dialects (Tehrani, Tajiki, Dari, Isfahani, Shirazi, Hamadani, Khorasani, etc.), and that language is part of the Iranian Language Family, and the ILF is part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. That is the description of the language (check out any linguistic dictionary, but if you like, also Compandium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. R. Schmitt). The argument is really pointless and it seems to me more a matter of some people just wishing to be defiant. Apparently somewhere along the way, ignorance and taking pride in it had become the fad, which is fine, but still does not make any difference. Anyone can use any word they like to refere to anything they like, and you can call a pillow a blanket, but it does not take anything away from its pillow-ness (after all, we call girls "chicks" and when we like something, we claim that is is "baaaaad"), but one risks being misunderstood when one choses to create one's own language.

Khodadad Rezakhani


by Khodadad Rezakhani on

As to your comment about history, I shall beg to differ, but not continue the argument, as I think I have deeply different ideas about history than you.

As for language. I somehow knew that you or someone else will bring on the old anecdote about language vs. dialect. I love it that the fact that scholars are usually lenient enough never to say anything is known for certain makes it seem to the non-specialists that the assumptions have absolutely no scientific/logical basis. Yes, there is a clear way to distinguish between dialects and languages, and believe me, no one will say that Kurdish and Persian are dialects of the same language and no one (who has no political agenda) will say that Tajiki and Persian of Iran are seperate languages.

As for the names of languages in English. There is a difference, and again, Urdu and Ozbek and the rest are bad examples. Whether you like it or not, and this has nothing to do with glory and pride, the fact is that names rooted in the word "Pars" (Persis, Persian, Persan, Persisch, Persiki, Parsakoi, etc.) have existed in Europe many years before Urdu and Ozbek and Kazakh. So, you cannot say that the entry of a new word for an already exiting concept is the same as the entry of a new word for a newly created concept. That is not logically comparable.

Also, funny that everyone would bring up these examples. In fact, who said that "Urdu" actually is the native name of the language? Urdu is, funny enough, the "English" name for a language that did not have a name before the English gave it one! Urdu is an Indic based language, essentially the same as "Hindi", with a large Persian vocabulary. It was called many things (Urdu, Hindustani, Hindi, Shumal Panjobi, Sindi, Urdu, Askar Zebani, etc.) by many people who spoke it, many of the names being descriptive (Askar Zebani: "Language of the Troops") or depending on regional connections of the person who provided the name (Sindi). The British then decided to give it a name (Urdu(wi) being the name most commonly given to it by the soldiers around the British administration in Lahore). So, "Urdu" is itself not a "native" name per-se. Similar things can be said for others (Ozbek is not essentially a seperate language, it is more a modern nationalistic name given to the Kipchak language). So, it is not really precise to put Farsi as a parallel.

Then, honestly, as soon as you start saying "Man English sohbat mikonam" or "man Francaise sohbat mikonam" or "man Evrit sohbat mikonam" without getting laughed at, I shall succumb to the trend and use Farsi.

Happy New Year...

Ari Siletz

More for Khodadad

by Ari Siletz on

Salaameh dobareh Khodadad, I Found the comment you had asked me to repsond to. Here are my thoughts:

Linguistic integrity: There’s no such thing as linguistic integrity when it comes to English. As you may know, Webster makes dictionaries by collecting words from books, magazines, newspapers, menus, flyers, banners, cable TV, internet, anything that uses language. Then the words are scrutinized in the contexts they were used and their meaning is inferred. In this sense Webster can’t be wrong or right, anymore than a subwoofer can be right or wrong. Webster is simply a machine that broadcasts what English is uttering. Of course once a new word appears in Webster it tends to stablize, but it won't make it that far unless it is already pretty well established in English. If you want to argue that English is wrong, take a helmet; you’re walking into an Orwellian minefield.

Difference between language and dialect:

I don’t remember who said, “The difference between language and dialect is that language has an army and a navy.” There are many influences besides grammar and word speciation that go into calling something a language and something else a dialect. Having your own state, social class, ethnic history, number of literary works, how many radio stations use your accent and grammar, whatnot. You imply there are fixed scientific rules that speciate dialects, akin to the linnean system for animals.  Is it that easy really?


Farsi is not the only language to get to name itself in English. Here’s a list of “all” the world languages with their pronunciations in International Phonetic Alphabet. The phonetics is sadly incomplete, but it keeps getting better as users contribute. Tagalog, Panjabi, Lao, Pashto, Khazakh, Ozbek, Urdu seem to keep Farsi company. //

None of these are "prestigious" languages, but as you point out, so what? 

By the way thanks for the informative link to Iranian languages. Well done!