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Lovely word
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 Mazandaran region.

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, “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, lubet, and libet of Sanskrit and Old Aryan, meaning “pleasing.”

The 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 of 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 the 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 fisheries.

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 of gathering.

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, and Sorri.

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 Caspian Sea.

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 son in the saying doudoul-tala (golden penis, literally), the Dehkhoda lexicon gives the meaning of doul and doudoul as the boy’s shame (sharm).

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 out.

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 vanDeresk ( 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 in

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