Are you having some coffee right now? I am. As a Brazilian, I have a close connection to this energetic drink. My country has been the highest global producer of coffee beans for over 150 years. A Lebanese friend of mine once proudly told me coffee had come from the Middle East, which is true. Partly true. Although the plant is native from Ethiopia, the drink was created in Yemen. It made its way onto our tables by “subdueing” several cultures throughout the past 600 years. There is this very cool book about the drink’s history. In today’s post, however, we are going to talk about the word coffee.
Have a look at the picture on the left, or google something like “how to say coffee in different languages” and you will notice the word changes very little, regardless of which language you pick. Apart from very few exceptions, the world uses a lot of variations of an Arabic word: قَهْوة (qahwah), but even this one might have come from another language’s word.
The English word came from Italian caffè in the 1600s. On its turn, the word cafe (meaning a small restaurant selling light meals and drinks) only appeared in English two hundred years later, coming from French café. As we can see, Romance languages appear to have quite a pervasive impact in the lexicon of English language. I intend to write about that in a future post.
Back to the history of the word coffee, where did Italian get its caffè from? It is mostly agreed that it comes from Ottoman Turkish kahveh, which, on its turn, comes from Arabic qahwah mentioned above. As for the origin of the Arabic word, there are several theories. One of them suggests that the word qahwah – originally used to refer to wine – derived from the verb qahiya (قهي), “to lack hunger”. Another theory holds that the root of the word, q-h-h, comes from Proto-Central Semitic and means “dark”. There is also a possible connection with the region of Kaffa in Ethiopia, where the plant comes from.
The drink (and its name) got to Europe with the Ottoman Empire, and from there it traveled westward to the New World. Meanwhile, coffee accompanied the Muslim spread to the East. Now, the whole world drinks it and calls it basically the same.
How would you like your coffee today?
- HARPER, D. Online Etymology Dictionary. < http://www.etymonline.com >
- KAYE, Alan (1986). “The Etymology of Coffee: The Dark Brew”. Journal of the American Oriental Society. 106 (3): 557. doi:10.2307/602112. JSTOR 602112.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. “coffee, n.” Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1891.
- World Atlas. < http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/top-coffee-producing-countries.html >