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Sweet Farsi
It is any Farsi-speaking person’s god-given right to call his or her language Farsi in any language


September 3, 2005

One of the advantages of having a legal education is that one measures ones words with an appreciable amount of care, to obfuscate or be clear as necessary. In my profession, as in life, there are three sides to every story and nothing is guaranteed or absolute, not even truth. What one is left with then is one’s own impression of reality, of history, of language.

It was with this guiding principle in mind that I wrote recently in "Lovely word", "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."

I expressed these thoughts with the use of the conditional "could have" and "I wonder" in full appreciation of the possibility that there could be other explanations for the origin of lobat and lavat. Imagine my utter surprise when a reader asked:

"Dear Sir: Are you sure 'lavat' is from the Persian word for 'love' (whatever it might be)?"

And I thought my crafty prevarication was itself clear! The explanation that Suri offered is that lavat is taken from the name of the Biblical prophet, Lot, whose people engaged in homosexuality; and lobat is Arabic from 'lab,' which means toy, and so lobat means plaything, doll, and metaphorically, a pretty woman." Okay.

I also heard from a reader named Maziar. He thought that his name had meant "wise friend" or "god’s friend." "Now I finally know what my name means," he wrote, "for the past couple of years I had wondered what the etymology was." Another reader, however, whose name is not Maziar, thought that the name Maziar was short for "maah-az-oo-yaar," meaning "moon bears him aid." Okay. If there are any Mahyars out there, let’s hear from you.

This second reader also offered the observation that "we should use Persian instead of Farsi in the English language." Usually, I would let such admonitions slide. But I also received this long explanation by Pejman as to why when referring to "our" country’s language in English we should say "Persian" and not Farsi. "I would like to point out that Farsi, which is originally Parsi, is the native name of our language and Persian is its English equivalent," he wrote. No argument there: After all Ferdosi himself is said to have claimed that he revived the Iranian with his Parsi (ajam zendeh kardam bedin parsi).

According to Pejman, the Farhangestan (Academy) in Tehran (Resolution of 34th meeting, 7 December 1992) has said that one should avoid using the term Farsi in English because of four reasons: (1) the use of the term Farsi negates the use of the term Persian in a variety of publications including cultural, scientific and diplomatic documents for centuries, which connotes a very significant historical and cultural meaning; (2) the use of the term Farsi may give the impression that it is a new language; (3) the use of the term Farsi may also give the impression that Farsi is a dialect of some parts of Iran and not the predominant (official) language of Iran; and (4) fortunately, the term Farsi has never been used in any research paper or university document in any Western language and the proposal of its usage will create doubt and ambiguity about the name of the official language of our country.

This view about the use of the term Farsi in English is based on the same old common and prevalent Iranian regard for what others may think, in this case the foreigners. I honestly do not give a flying fuck what a foreigner thinks of how I choose to refer to my mother tongue, the state language (lingua franca) of my birthland, as we all refer to it among ourselves, regardless of what language I express myself in.

Last time I checked we all learned and still do learn Farsi, we sat or sit through interminable Farsi classes and not once anyone said or says that we should be doing some "pershan" today. To ask me to do otherwise is like asking me to call a khiyar Cucumis sativas when I write about mast-o-khyar for an English-reading audience.

I would have not taken the time to pen this rejoinder about Farsi vs. Persian were it not for the directive in Pejman’s letter -- "If possible, please revise your English texts and please use the proper English name for our language; Persian, not Farsi."

I think it is any Farsi-speaking person’s god-given right to call his or her language Farsi in any language. I am not opposed to the use of the term "Persian," but I reserve the right to use it interchangeably when the context requires or mood demands.

"If you want to have more information," Pejman concluded, "please do not hesitate to contact me." I do not think that I will pick up on his generous offer any time soon. In my way of thinking, if one cannot bear the use Farsi and Persian in the same sentence then he knows next to nothing about either.

Here’s a thought: The country is Iran; its national language is Farsi. Not Persia, nor Persian. The sooner and more vigorously we educate the rest of the world with this shameful aspect of our identity the better we will understand ourselves.

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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