A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

cousin words: eloquence, Easter, and Passover

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 7, 2009

Easter is a funny holiday in the United States: I see it as the space where our secularism and our commercialism mix. Christmas – which is technically a minor holiday for Christians, since Jesus’ birth is not what makes him the Messiah – is a federal holiday, while Easter – the major holiday – is not. (Easter always falls on a Sunday, of course, which would make assigning an Easter holiday more tricky; Good Friday would be the logical choice, but in the U.S., celebrating – well, marking – Good Friday in any measurable way is almost unheard of.)

This year, Easter and Passover fall quite close to one another: Passover begins this Thursday, April 9, while Easter – at least for Western Christians – falls on Sunday, April 12. I like it when the two holidays come at the same time: its a nice reminder of how closely connected our three cousin religions are.

And in Arabic, they are even more closely connected: in fact, they are the same word. Both “Easter” and “Passover” are known as “عيد الفصح” in Arabic – Eid al-Fasah (accent on the first “a”). What does “fasah” mean, you might ask. Well, my dictionary is not particularly helpful: “afsaha”, the verb form, means “to celebrate Easter or Passover”, and “fasah” means “Easter (Chr.); Passover or Pesach (Jud.)”.

Pesach is the key word here, I think: substitute an “f” for the “P”, as often happens with Arabic, shift from a Hebrew “kha” to an Arabic “Haa” (just think of all those ear-twisting Israeli pronunciations of “hummus”) and “Pesach” becomes “fasah”. And if you push “Pesach” a bit further, you get “paschal” – like “paschal lamb”, which refers in the Old Testament to the lambs sacrificed so that Jews could mark their houses with their blood, as a sign that the Angel of Death should pass them by. In the New Testament, the paschal lamb is Jesus. (And for you French speakers, cela vous donne le mot  “Pâques”.)

I assume here that Hebrew is the original and the Arabic an importation, for chronological reasons. But I am also delighted to see that “afsaha” and “fasah”, which celebrate the major holidays of two of the three Abrahamic cousin religions, have a linguistic cousin of their own: the other “afsaha”.

This “afsaha” has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with Arabic: it means to speak clearly and eloquently, in pure and elegant Arabic, and it gives us the word that all Arabic students know: fusHa.

Happy speaking, eloquent or no, and happy Eid al-Fasah preparations for those of you who are celebrating.


One Response to “cousin words: eloquence, Easter, and Passover”

  1. intlxpatr said

    Your Florida cousin and his wife have Good Friday off, as state employees.

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