When my newly born son had begun to utter his first sounds, I constantly marveled at the variety of sounds that he garbled. Some sounded familiar, some did not and some could have been Chinese, Scandinavian or Martian as far as I was concerned. I began thinking that at birth a baby has a sound template from which he draws sounds as he begins to form the language that he will come to speak. That most babies begin with more or less the same sounds was all the proof I needed for my hypothesis.
In a poignant note [Shorts] Karim Sharif provided another example of how a young mind parses and combines sounds to make meaning. His 7-year old daughter’s dissection of the word Farsi into the sounds “far” and “sea” created a beautiful play on words to capture the emotion of a Farsi-speaking family finding itself nostalgically “far” away from their “sea,” which I took to signify “home.”
The English word “far” derives from the Original Teutonic (German) root fer, which in Old Aryan was per and in Sanskrit appeared as paras, meaning distant or beyond. In Darius the Great’s time the word para also meant (away from or beyond). Hence we read in his inscriptions [DPh, DNa] about his empire stretching from para Sugda (beyond Sogdia) and about his subjects the Saka para draya (Scythians beyond sea). The sounds vara and bara both represent variants of para in the pre-Islamic Persian languages.
In today’s Farsi the word “fara” denotes something that is beyond ordinary limits or confines – for example as in fara-su (other side). The word faravard from baravard means “raised, produced.” The word faramoush that means “forget” is from farahoush that literally means from beyond consciousness.
The term fara is also present in the name of the river Euphrates and it was so already in the days of Darius. In Darius’ inscriptions the word tigra meant high (as in Saka tyaiy xaudam Tigram barati = Saka who bear tall caps/hoods). The same root (tigra) is present in the name of a river called Tigra (DB1:85), which is Tigris. The Tigris was long and drew from the highlands of southern Anatolia. In contrast the river we know as Euphrates, lay lateral and farther west from the Tigris. It was know to Darius as “Ufratu,” possibly meaning the same as “faratar,” even further.
Faramarz and Faravahar and countless similar names and words have some relation to Ms. Sharif’s “far.” May be not all the time, but for the most part, as the Bible states, “… and a child shall lead them.”
Not by a child but equally inquisitive was a question from a reader who wanted to know if the word “best” in English came from the Persian term “beh ast,” meaning “it’s good.” The reader is onto something and this is why.
The place to begin is with the adjective “better” because of its proximity to the Persian “behtar,” which has the same meaning as “better” in English (comparative/superior adjective). In English the word “better” is in relation to “good.” In Persian, the adjective “behtar” is in relation to the word “beh,” meaning “good, well.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “better” points to a positive stem (bat) which is not in existence in any Teutonic languages. This was probably related to bot and some say that it came from the Sanskrit bhadra, even thought this means salutary, benign. Similarly, the superlative adjective “best” in English came from the Original Teutonic batist. In Farsi “best” is “behtaryn.”
As a rule when a word has an ambiguous origin and in Oxford Dictionary it stops at Original Teutonic, I search for its similar sounding Persian equivalent and if there is a rational connection between the two, I declare that to be a case of “the Persian in English.” I get a perverse sense of pleasure from that.
The English adjectives “better” and “best” were based on bat, which came from the Sanskrit bhadra, but probably via Persian in which bhadra became bah and probably transmitted to Original Teutonic as bhat and then bat.
Interestingly enough, the word “baha,” which in Farsi we know as “price,” also has the meaning “good, nice.” According to Dehkhoda, this baha or beha was formed by Arabic influence from the Persian root bah.
While “best” is not exactly from the Persian “beh ast,” the fact that “better” and “best” derived either from Persian or by way of Persian is good enough for me to declare this yet another case of “the Persian in English!”
Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at trapworks.com. 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 >>> Features in iranian.com