Gold vessels of fine wines,
thousands a gallon,
Jade dishes of rare meats,
costing more thousands,
I lay my chopsticks down,
no more can banquet,
And draw my sword and stare
wildly around me:
Ice bars my way to cross
the Yellow River,
Snows from dark skies to climb
the T'ai-hang Mountains!
At peace I drop a hook
into a brooklet,
At once I'm in a boat
but sailing sunward...
(Hard is the Journey,
Hard is the Journey,
So many turnings,
And now where am I?)
So when a breeze breaks waves,
bringing fair weather,
I set a cloud for sails,
cross the blue oceans!
This poem, likening the life to a journey, is by poet Li Po.
Li Po lived
from 701 to 762. Along with his contemporary Tu Fu, Li is considered
Chinese to be one of their greatest poets.
Although embraced by Chinese and has actually immensely contributed
their literary treasures, Li Po was Turkish. He was born in what
Soviet Union-Afghanistan border area.
500 years later, the same geographic region produced another great
philosopher: Mevlana Celalettin Rumi. Like Li, Mevlana also emigrated
from his birth place when he was a child, but went West and settled
Konya, what is now central Turkey.
Both Li and Mevlana mainly used a language other than their mother
Turkish in their poems. However, both also had a few occasional poems
Turkish. Unfortunately, none of Li's poems in Turkish survive today.
(For more about Li Po's poetry, refer to Li Po and Tu Fu
by Arthur Cooper,
Penguin Classics, 1973.)
Some of the plants and animals of the new world Christopher Columbus
discovered in 1492 gradually made their way to Europe and then to the Ottoman
Empire. It is interesting to note how the Turks named them.
The bird that the English named "turkey" was called "hindi" by the
Turks. English confused the bird of the Americas with another bird that
they were getting via the African territories of the Ottomans. This African
bird--nowadays called the "guinea fowl"--was then known as the "turkey
The Turkish word probably originates from the misconception that the
newly discovered continent was India: "Hindi" means "indian" in Farsi and
I have heard another name for turkey in Anatolian Turkish:"culuk" (pronounced
"joulouk"). This is an onomatopoeic word (that is, it is formed by imitating
the sound of the animal).
Other dialects of Turkish have yet other words for this animal: The
Tatar Turks call it "kürke" (probably another onomatopoeic word),
Azeri Turks "bugalamun" (from "chameleon"="ground lion" in Greek?)
One final note on turkey, the Spanish speaking nations call the bird
yet with another country's name: "peru"!
The names of the New World's prolific plants "potato" and "tomato"
entered the Istanbul Turkish with a slight modification: "patates" and
"domates". Both of these words are of American Indian origin. Azeri and
Tatar Turks, like French, call the potato "ground apple": "yer alma" in
Azeri Turkish and "cir" (pronounced "jir") "alma" in Tatar Turkish. Yet
"yer elma", in Istanbul Turkish is the "Jerusalem artichoke! "
Turks did not adopt the word "tobacco"--another American Indian word.
They derived a new and appropriate word for it from the Turkish word "tüt"
(to give off smoke): "tütün".
(Many thanks to Saliha Minai and Aziz Abad with the Tatar and Azeri
Turkish.) Addendum: 26 Jan 2001, Ms. Aysegul Acar informed us that the word for Turkey is "dinde" from "d'Inde" in French...
The Turkish word "kiraz " and its English equivalent, "cherry", are
from the same root. Ancient Greeks named the cherry fruit after the region
where it was grown in abundance. This region is none other than the modern
Turkish province of Giresun (ancient name "Gerassus"). The word in Greek
was "kerasos" which became "kiraz "in Turkish. Romans borrowed the same
word and changed it into "cerasus" to pronounce it properly with a "k"
sound. In medieval Latin, the word became "ceresia". English borrowed it
through Norman French as "cheri. "
Gypsies were once thought to have originated from Egypt. Modern
anthropologists say that they are actually from India. Nevertheless, the
misconception about Gypsy roots stuck with them. The word "gypsy" is an
altered form of the word "egypt".
You will find the same parallel in Turkish: There are two words for
gypsy in Turkish. "Kipti" is the one that is considered "proper" but old
fashioned. Ottomans borrowed this word from Arabic. The word "kipti" means
"of the Copts" in Arabic which also comes from the word "egypt". Copts
are the Christian minority in Egypt who still use a language derived from
ancient Egyptian in their religious ceremonies. Through the 19th
and 20th centuries Egyptologists made extensive use of their language to
decipher the meanings of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The other word Turkish has for gypsies is "çingene." Although
sometimes considered less flattering, one hears "çingene" more nowadays.
This word has a completely different root: It comes from the Farsi word
"cheng", the name of a musical instrument similar to the harp. The rest
of the word ("-iyan") is made up of two suffixes from Arabic. The first,
"-i, "makes it the "cheng" player, so it is like the English suffix
"-ist "in "harpist". "-yan "makes the word plural and the word means, "cheng
players" (harpists) or "dancers" (dancing to the accompaniment of "cheng").
In 19th century Ottoman language it started to mean "women dancers. "
The English language, like many other languages of Europe, use the
word "magnet" for a piece of substance that attracts iron, nickel and its
compounds. The phenomenon is called "magnetism" and it is one that physics
is just getting to decipher.
Even before it was understood, mankind used magnetism in many useful
ways in electric motors to radios. The word for magnet is "miknatis" in
Turkish. It is borrowed from either Arabic or Farsi but further down the
road it shares the same root as the word "magnet": Both words come from
the name of an Aegean province of Turkey: "Manisa". Ancient name for this
province was "Magnesia".
The same province also gave its name to another important substance,
in this case a metal of the 20th century: "Magnesium".
A small town in the Nevsehir province of Turkey is rich in borax deposits.
This town is called simply "Bor". The word "borax", and other related words
like "borium", "boric" and "boron " are borrowed from Latin. Latin however
borrowed them from Arabic. The Arabic origin is "buraq" which in term was
borrowed from the Persian "burah". I am not sure how the Turkish town got
"Marmara", the name of a beautiful Turkish sea has also a relative
in the English language. The word "marble" is related to the word "marmara"
and also to its Turkish equivalent "mermer". Incidentally, the Island of
Marmara in the Marmara Sea, has marble quarries mined since ancient times.)
Then there is the town of Marmaris...
All of these words were borrowed from the ancient Anatolian languages
through Greek. The root is thought to be "ma" which expresses shining,
and can be found in many other languages. For example, ancient Babylonians
called their sun-god "Marduk". The Roman god of war was called "Mars",
and hence the planet. I think the farsi word for moon, "mah", has the same
root. ("Mah" is borrowed by Turkish in many phrases, most notably as "mah-i
tab", "moon light", now spelled as "mehtap".)
Here are a few other words that have roots in the geographic names
of Turkey: "Cherry", as I wrote several articles ago, and its Turkish equivalent
"kiraz" both come from "Giresun". Casaba melons are named after "Kasaba
" (old name for Turgutlu, Manisa) in Turkey, says Webster's. (This needs
further investigation, because "kasaba" means "town" in Turkish...)
(Thanks for Dr. M. Hubey of NJI for his melon tip...)
As other languages, Turkish also borrowed extensively from languages
that Turks have come into contact with. Ottomans took the borrowing to
its extremes. Thus the official Ottoman language was almost 90% Arabic
and Farsi with a few sprinkling of Turkish words. After the foundation
of the Turkish Republic, Turks started showing more interest in their own
roots, including their own language. They revived many words of Turkish
origin, considered vulgar and replaced by Arabic or Farsi equivalents by
Ottomans. Turkish still contains many words from other languages. A recent
sampling I conducted indicates most of the foreign words are from Arabic.
Arabic is followed by Farsi, Greek and French.
Ancient Turks, who lived in Central Asia, borrowed words from a different
group of neighbors. Among these neighbors Chinese were the most influential,
followed by nations speaking various languages derived from Sanskrit. As
you may expect, some Chinese words borrowed centuries ago can still be
found in modern Turkish. For example, the Turkish word for lion,
aslan or arslan , is thought to be part Chinese.
In the old Turkish ars meant a weasel.
lan or lung meant and still does mean dragon
in Chinese. (Look up your phone book and you will see many Chinese last
names as lung !) So the ancient Turks named the king of the
animal world weasel dragon , after noticing that the
fur colors of the two animal were similar.
There are two more Turkish words that are similar in ending to
aslan : Kaplan (tiger) and sIrtlan
(hyena). I am not absolutely sure of the origins--at least of the first
syllables--but I will attempt at an explanation. In modern Turkish
kap means grab , so perhaps the ancient Turks wanted
to call the big cat grabbing dragon . As for the hyena
, the laughter like sounds it utters may shed some light. There are several
words in modern Turkish for different types of laughing: Gül
, gülümse and sIrIt . The last
word may give us a clue as to what sIrtlan means:
Laughing dragon ?
The last Chinese dragon connection is to the word yIlan
(snake): This is simply lung itself. The y and I are
sounds added to make it easier for pronunciation, as in istasyon
(station) or istim (steam).
I cannot help but notice the similarity between lan
or lung and the English word lion
. The English word comes from the Greek leon . Could they
all have a common root?
(I would like to express my thanks to Binh Phung, Frank Koehler, Anwar
Yusuf, and Minai family for assisting me with Chinese, Uygur and Tatar
Next newsletter: What does some Turkish cats have in common with tigers?
Of tulips and turbans, yogurt and pistachios...
I love cats. I grew up in a farm in Turkey where I always had a cat--
sometimes more than one. The first one I can remember was named "Top"
meaning "ball" . Then I had a "Top-2". Another one I
remember was a fierce fighter. I named him "Efe
Boncuk" -- "Brave Bead" . He was the second strongest cat after "Biyikli"
( Moustachio ).
We name cats in Turkey, sometimes with unusual names as I did when
I was a kid. Sometimes we use "generic" names: If a cat has yellow
fur, it may be named "sarman", probably from the word for yellow--
"sari" . The generic name for a "tabby"--a striped cat, usually with brown
fur--is "tekir" . (Incidentally, the word "tabby" comes
from the Arabic "attabi".) I discovered that this word is related
to the English word "tiger". Both are thought to be of Iranian origin,
probably borrowed through a series of intermediary languages.
The word cat in Turkish-- "kedi" --is also related to its
English counterpart. The English word comes from the Latin "cattus"
. The Turkish word is borrowed from the Greek "gata". The Greek
word is in turn related to the Latin and other European words for cat.
English has a rich collection of words borrowed from the languages
of the Middle East. From "alchemy" to "zenith" , Arabic
is in the forefront of these languages with scores of words. Words
from Turkish are less frequent. Among these "yogurt" is now
a household word. "Yogurt" in Turkish is derived from the obscure
word "yog". I can best illustrate the meaning of "yog"
by giving a few other words that are related or derived from it:
Yogusmak (to condense), yogurmak (to knead),
yogun (dense). So, the ancient Turks called the dairy
product they discovered simply "condensate".
Turkish also lent some words borrowed from other languages to English.
Among these "tulip" is a prominent example. As with the flower,
the word came from the Ottoman Empire. Europeans carrying the beautiful
flower back to their lands thought that it resembled a turban and named
it as such. The word "turban", originally was pronounced as
"tulban" which is from the Turkish "tülbent" (a
type of cheese cloth). "Tülbent" was the material
wound around a cap to make the turban. The word itself is thought to have
a Farsi root. One source attributes the first syllable to the French city
of Tulle where a similar fabric originated.
In my last article I wrote about how some Turkish location names have
been used in naming fruits to metals. The names of some Turkish towns and
cities themselves have interesting meanings and roots.
In 1453 when Mehmet the Conqueror captured Istanbul, Turks called the
metropolis Kostantiniye and the Europeans Constantinople
, both meaning "City of Constantine". (The name Constantine comes from
Latin and means a person firm in his beliefs or purpose.) Turks afterwards
noticed that the Greek subjects of the Ottoman Empire were referring to
Kostantiniye as simply Stanpoli, meaning "to city". So,
Turks started using this phrase starting around 16th century. Since the
Turkish linguistic syntax does not allow for a st- sound, gradually
an i- was added. I also heard a legend about the name of this
beautiful city. This legend claims that it is from the phrase
Islam bol , meaning "plenty of Islam". I think the first is more plausible.
Both Istanbul and Constantinople contain the
Greek word for city, polis , much like Minneapolis and
Indianapolis do. There are other Turkish localities that contain this word
as well. Most of the time this word is transformed to bolu
to fit the Turkish vernacular. The charming city of Bolu is
the most prominent example. Then there are Gelibolu ( Ship
City) and Safranbolu ( Saffron City ). I also came
across Hayrabolu and Inebolu whose meanings I could not
One interesting word used for some Turkish localities is viran
or its Turkishized version ören . This Farsi word means
ruins . Thus the name of my father's village, Çiftlikören
, translates as "ruined farm" . Then there is Viransehir ("ruined
city"). The idea behind such names goes back in history to the times when
people tried to ward off invaders by claiming that the locality is nothing
but ruins and thus there is nothing to plunder...
A friend from my military service days, Bekir Ünüvar, is here
to learn English. He is from Kayseri, a central Anatolian city, known--among
other things--for its shrewd business people. They say in Turkey that if
a family from Kayseri has a kid with normal intelligence, he is made an
apprentice to a merchant. If the kid is not on the bright side, he is encouraged
to continue with his education, since "schooling is necessary only for
the dumb"! (Bekir has a college degree, but he still claims that he is
very smart...) The name of Bekir's home town is originally Latin. When
Romans captured the area they called it Caesarea , "Caesar's City".
Romans pronounced the letter c as k , and the original
pronunciation was very close to the modern Turkish version. By the way,
Webster's dictionary says that the word "caesar" itself means
"the hairy one." So the best translation for Kayseri is
The Hairy One's City !
(This article is for lovers of words and their origins. If you have
any interesting etymological discoveries call A. Toprak.)
If you go to a grocery store these days, you are sure to run
into delicacies and food from all over the world--some even locally made
or produced. In fact, some Americans say that the American food is steak
and potatoes plus the rest of the World cuisine!
In our local grocery store, from Korea you'll sea the zesty kimchis.
Mexico is represented with tacos and burritos in the frozen food section.
Scores of pizzas are present usually packaged in Italian red and green.
Kikkamon soy sauce and tempura mixes are available for your Japanese dishes,
frankfurters for folks with a German taste. For dessert, yogurt and casaba
melon-- originally from Turkey--are available.
Eastern Europe is represented with piroshkis from Russia, kielbasa
sausages from Poland, pastramis from Romania and gulash from Hungary. But
are these actually from eastern Europe? Let's investigate...
Russians and Poles ("pieragi" in Polish) borrowed the piroshki
from the Kazan Turks. The origin of the word piroshki is borek.
The Turks of Anatolia and Rumeli have hundreds of variations of this savory
pastry. Depending on the dialect the word is pronounced borek, burek,
bura, etc. For example my grandmother loved making "su burasi" for
us. The root for borek is "bur-" (twist).
The Polish sausage kielbasa is also based on a Turkish food:
Kulbasti. "Kulbasti" literally means "pressed on the ashes", and my Turkish
dictionary gives "grilled cutlet" as its translation. Poles probably got
the word from the Turks of the Golden Horde.
As for the Romanian pastrami, it comes from the Turkish pastirma.
As I wrote in a previous article, pastirma means "pressed" meat.
The root of the word is bas- which means to press or step.
The Hungarian gulash has also a Turkish connection. It is said
that Hungarians learned the gulash from the Ottoman armies and the akincis.
These military forces would cook the "food" for the "subjects" in big "kazans"
(cauldrons). The food then was simply called "kul ashi" (food for the subjects).
The word kul--in some dialects it is pronounced gul--is of
Turkic origin, but the word ash is borrowed into Turkish from Farsi
and is related to the words that we can find in other Indo-European languages:
The German word essen, the English word eat, the latin word
esus are all from the same root.
Eastern European languages did not limit their vocabulary borrowings
from Turkish to food. The Yiddish word for the cap worn by Jewish men,
"yarmulke", has also Turkish roots. The word was borrowed into Yiddish
from Polish ("jarmulka" in Polish) which in turn borrowed it from Turkish
The road between Turkish and the Eastern European languages was
not at all one way: Turkish borrowed the words bavul (suitcase)
and semaver (samovar, a utensil to brew tea) from Russian. The slavic
word for worker (robot) is in Turkish, borrowed through Western languages...
(Many thanks to Minai Family, Jasek Tyminski and M. Hubey for hints
and help with the Kazan Turkish, Russian and Polish languages. This article
is for lovers of words and their origins. If you have any interesting etymological
discoveries call A. Toprak.)