A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

fun with citrus fruits

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 10, 2009

Earlier this week H and I had an argument about tabboule. Well, not really about tabboule: about what goes into tabboule. And not even that: what we argued about was the word.

H is teaching an Arabic course at a local institution, and this week they were focusing on food and kitchen words.

Sorry to bother you, H said when I answered the phone, but can you tell me what “parsley” is in Arabic?

H doesn’t cook, clearly. And nor does he remember the name of my laptop: Bekdounes.

But isn’t that also cilantro? H continued. I was stumped: I had no idea. But I knew how to find out – and so I looked it up.

Its kuzbara khudra2, I said. And coriander, cilantro’s cousin (coriander comes from the dried seeds; cilantro comes from the fresh leaves), is plain old kuzbara.

So: we were good with green things, and we were also good with banadoura and burghul, the other two critical components of a good tabboule. But then H said something I didn’t understand:

And of course zeit and hamoud, H finished.

What? I asked. What is that word?

Its lemon, H said, surprised.

Amoun? I asked. Can you say it again?

Hamoud, H said.

How do you spell that? I asked, still mystified.

I have no idea, H said – like many Lebanese, able to speak Arabic fluently, but unable to read or write.What would you say for “lemon”?

Um, I said. I would say “limon”.

Oh, you Frenchies, H said sighing. And I do like French: but “lemon” in French is “citron”. Where did I get “limon” from?

I looked up “lemon” in an English-Arabic dictionary, and found that – surprise, surprise – we were both partly right. According to my dictionary, the word for “lemon” is: حامض ليمون. “Hamid” means sour or bitter, and “limon” means “lemon”.

I’m still a bit confused, though. I thought that citrus fruits were effectively native to the region, or at least to North Africa and Palestine, having come over from the Iberian peninsula. Hence the name for “orange” in Arabic is “burtuqal”, i.e., “Portugal. Does “limon” indicate a Spanish/Portuguese origin for lemons, as well?


9 Responses to “fun with citrus fruits”

  1. intlxpatr said

    And why are pomegranates, which I am pretty sure originated in Iran, called “roman?”

  2. hamod or hamoud is lemon or lemon juice. used interchangeably
    laymoun in arabic, or lebanese more accurately is orange. or in official arabic bortokal

    never heard of hamoud el laymoun tho.

  3. M. said

    Haha. When we first moved back to Lebanon, I would never understand why people called lemons hamoud, and not leymoun, which is what I grew up with. And that’s due to a pali-syrian influence in my family.

    And as babaghanouj mentions, I was extremely confused why people in Leb would call oranges leymoun.

  4. Hi there, all of you! Khalti, I’m going to do a follow-up post on grapefruits, and will include something on pomegranates. “Roman” in Arabic would be “rumi”, which is used, more or less (“Rum”), for the Christian Orthodox populations (Byzantine Rome, not Roman Rome, I guess). The word for “pomegranate” is sometimes written in English as if it were “roman”, but its more accurately “rumman”, with a drawn-out “m” and a long “a”.

    BabaGh and M, very interesting. Guess this shows my Damascene side – and I am happy to report that I never once had a waiter sneer at my asking for “limon”!

  5. c said

    was going to make the same comment about “laymon” meaning “orange” in lebanese, but i see i’ve been beaten to the punch. very curious as to how this originated though!

  6. Qifa Nabki said

    There are dozens of names for both lemons and oranges in Arabic, depending on the species of the fruit, the time period, and of course the region (laymuun, yusuf affandi, abu suffayr, utruj, kabbad, etc.)

    The word lemon/limon is actually thought to be derived from laymuun, not the other way around.

    Lemons were abundant in the Middle East before the Portuguese started importing them from India, etc. The modern term burtukal refers to Portuguese of course, but the first lemons/oranges to reach Europe came through the Near East.

  7. Qifa Nabki said

    PS: Rumman derives from and old semitic root r/m/(n)… it is attested in pretty much all the semitic languages. (Has nothing to do with “Ruum” or Rome).

  8. heh well QN has taken the meat of my intended follow-up post away with his linguistic expertise 🙂 but maybe I’ll follow up with something on grapefruits at some point. very interesting that “lemon” comes from “laymun” – I had no idea. For those of you who are interested in learning more about this, Online Etymology says: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=lemon.

  9. xqwzts said

    Another fun one would be “Naranj” for orange [which I recently learnt on a trip to Damascus] and from which the Spanish word for orange is derived – “naranja”. [ more: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=naranj&searchmode=none ] Etymonline suggests that “bortoqali” refered to sweet oranges whilst “naranj” was for bitter ones, a distinction which is no longer upheld.
    I’m curious though as to why we switched to using the European “bortoqali” in Lebanon while the Spanish/Syrians maintained the Arab “naranj”..

    [and yes Roum is indeed for Byzantine Rome, Rome Rome was overrun by Germanic tribes at the time wasn’t it?]

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