On the origin of the word ešq
The Modern Persian word ešq (عشق) meaning "love", classical Persian
išq, is of utmost
importance in the Persian literature and gnosis (erfān عرفان). This paper
puts forward the idea that ešq, used in Persian and Arabic
('išq), may have an Indo-European origin. This proposal is mainly based on
The author thinks that ešq may be related to Avestan iš- "to wish, desire,
search", aēša- "desire, search", išaiti "he wishes",
išt "wished for, beloved", išti- "aspiration, aim",
and suggests that it derives from *iška- or something like that. See below for more
about the suffix -ka.
Avestan iš- is cognate with Sanskrit eṣ- "to wish, strive for, seek",
icchā- "wish, desire", icchati "seeks for, wishes",
iṣta- "beloved, sought", iṣti- "search, desire",
Pali icchaka- "wishing, desirous". Note also that this word exists in Middle Persian
in the form of išt "desire", as attested by Farahvaši.
The Avestan and Sanskrit words come from the Proto-Indo-European base *ais-
"to wish, desire", *aisskā- "desire, search", which have several offshoots
in other Indo-European languages: Old Church Slavic isko, išto
"to seek, desire"; iska "wish";
Russian iskat' "to seek";
Lithuanian ieškau "to seek";
Latvian iēskāt "to search for lice"; Armenian aic' "inspection, probe";
Latin aeruscare "to beg; go begging; get money traveling and practicing
juggling"; Old High German eiscon "to desire";
Old English ascian "to ask"; English ask.
In contrast, the origin mentioned by traditional Persian
lexicographers for ešq is the Arabic 'išq (عشق),
from 'ašaq (عَشَق) "to stick, to cleave to". The latter is itself
derived from 'ašaqa (عَشَقَه) the plant commonly called lablāb
(لَبلاب) ("a kind of ivy"), because it twines upon trees, and cleaves to them
(Zamaxšari, Tāj al-'arus).
It is interesting to note that ešq lacks a Hebrew counterpart; the Hebrew term for
love is ahav, which is akin to Arabic habba (حَبَّ).
Another Hebrew term used in the Old Testament
is xašaq "to desire; to attach; delight, pleasure" (for example, Deu 10:15, 21:11;
1 Ki 9:19; Exo 27:17, 38:17; Gen 34:8).
According to Prof. Scott B. Noegel, the Hebrew
xašaq and Arabic 'ašaq are etymologically unrelated.
The Hebrew x (heth)
can equate either with an Arabic h (ḥā') or x (xā')
and the Hebrew
'ayn can equate either with an Arabic 'ayn or qayn, but they do not mix.
Also, typically the Hebrew š (shin) is reflected by an Arabic s (sin),
and vise versa. As for the meanings, the similarity is a coincidence. Also,
they are not ultimately of the same meaning. Hebrew x-š-q probably meant
"to bind" or "press together", as does its Aramaic equivalent. Similarly, Prof. Werner Arnold
underlines that Hebrew x in word initial positions is always an Arabic
h (ḥā') and never 'ayn.
Note also that
ešq ('išq) does not appear in the Koran, which instead uses the
aforementioned verb habba (حَبَّ) and its derivatives, for example
the noun hubb (حُبّ). Moreover, in
Modern Arabic the relevant terms dominantly used are: habba and its
derived forms hubb, habib, mahbub, etc.
It is well-known that Ferdowsi avoided using Arabic words in order to
defend and promote Persian. Notwithstanding, he used ešq even if he
had the possibility to refrain from it since poetry allows great latitude.
The question is, why did not Ferdowsi use the usual word for "love" in Arabic, which is
hubb, or another Persian word instead
but preferred ešq?
The author tends to believe that in spite of the fact that he did
not have our today's philological knowledge as to the etymology of
Persian and Indo-European words, he was probably aware that ešq was
of Iranian/Persian origin.
It would be interesting to know how Ferdowsi himself wrote ešq, maybe
without the Arabic phoneme 'ayn (ع), like this: اشق or ! اِشک
However, verifying this point is not straightforward, since the oldest extant manuscript of
Šāh-nāmé is written about two centuries after Ferdowsi. More specifically,
it is dated 30 Muharram 614 Hijri, corresponding to Monday 15 May 1217
in the Gregorian calendar and Došanbé 25 Ordibehešt 596
in the Iranian solar calendar (Florence National Library).
In brief, we propose the following derivation path for ešq:
Proto-Inodo-European *ais- "to wish, desire, seek", *aisska- "desire,
search" → Avestan iš- and → *iška- "desire, wish".
The suffix -ka- is common in Avestan and appears in many
words, for example: mahrka- "death"; araska- "envy"; aδka-
"garment, robe"; huška- "dry"; pasuka- "cattle, beast"; drafška-,
drafša- "banner"; dahaka- "stinging(?)", Dahāka-
a tyrant figure in Persian mythology (with aži-),
and so on.
The Avestan term would have given rise to Middle Persian *išk. Two
possibilities can be envisaged for the transfer of the Middle Persian
word into Arabic. The first one is that it was transmitted into Arabic
during the Sasanid era, when Persians dominated the Arabian Peninsula
(see Āzarnuš's book which deals with the ways Persian words could
have penetrated into Arabic during Pre-Islamic times). The transformation of
the Persian phoneme k into Arabic q is common, as in the following
examples: kandak → xandaq,
zandik → zandiq,
kafiz → qafiz,
kušk → jawsaq, kāsah →
qaS'ah ( قصعَه); see the Persian version for references.
Interestingly, in the last example, qaS'ah ( قصعَه), not only the k
phoneme has changed into a q (ق), two typical Semitic sounds have, in addition,
appeared: Sād (ص) and 'ayn (ع). Another example of the occurrence of
'ayn in loanwords is the name of the Iranian island and city Ābādan
(آبادان), whose Arabic form is 'abbādān (عبّادان). We
note that the original form of this name was Apphana, as attested by
Ptolemy, the famous second-century astronomer and geographer, who
applies it to an island off the mouth of the Tigris. Similarly, the
fourth-century geographer Marcian calls it Apphadana. According to the
late scholar B. Farahvashi, this name comes from the Old Persian
āppā-, from āp- "water" and pā-
"to guard, to watch," literally meaning "coastguard station".
The last example of the appearance of an
'ayn in Arabic loanwords is qurquma'nā (قرقومعنا) or
qurquma'mā (قرقومعما ) "dregs of saffron oil". This is a loan
from the Greek krokomagma, from krokos "saffron, crocus"
and magma "ointment, dregs". Krokomagma was a drug used in Greek medicine,
as attested in, for example, Galen's works.
Arabic often creates other typical Semitic sounds in loanwords. Briefly,
here are some examples of conversion into ghayn (غ) and tayn (ط),
which do not exist in the source languages. Loans from Greek:
f.i. th.a.ghayn.v.r.th (فیثاغورث): Pythagoras;
q.a.tay.i.ghayn.v.r.i.a (قاطیغوریا): kategoria;
a.r.ghayn.n.v.n (ارغنون): organon; m.ghayn.n.a.tayn.i.s.
(مغناطیس): magnesia-lithos; a.s.tayn.r.l.a.b (اسطرلاب):
astrolabos; a.r.s.tayn.v, a.r.s.tayn.a.tayn.a.l.s
(ارسطو، ارسطاطالیس): Aristoteles;
tayn.a.l.s (طالس): Thales.
Loans from Persian: tayn.a.s (طاس): tašt
(this word is the origin of French tasse and German Tasse);
tayn.s.v.j (طسّوج): tasōy;
tayn.s.q (طسق): tašk; tayn.b.q (طَبَق): tabōk.
From French in Modern Arabic: ghayn.a.z (غاز): gaz ("a state of matter",
like solid, liquid).
Let us go back to the way ešq in its "love" sense was introduced into
Arabic. Alternatively, the transfer may have happened at the beginning
of the Islamic period through scholars and lexicographers of Persian
they lacked the necessary knowledge about the possible Iranian origin of ešq, they
would have confused it with the Arabic 'ašaq
(عَشَق) "to stick". Generally
speaking, traditional lexicographers have often mentioned Arabic origins for Persian
words mainly owing to their ignorance of Persian roots and sometimes owing to
Acknowledgements: The author is grateful to Dr. Scott B. Noegel,
Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies,
Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, University of Washington,
for replying to his questions about the etymology of xašaq. The author is also
indebted to Dr. Werner Arnold, Professor of Semitic studies, Department for
Languages and Cultures of the Near East, University of Heidelberg, for helpful
discussions and comments.
The author also would like to thank Dr. Jalil Doostkhah, Professor of Avestan studies, for
his remarks on a preliminary version of this note.
© Copyright 2007 by M. Heydari-Malayeri
Observatoire de Paris
Last updated 06 November 2007