March 12th, 2013

arm light

Tuesday Word: casbah

I spent most of today driving, wondering about a variety of things: Will someone get pissed off and start honking their horn if I insist upon finishing the paragraph I started at a long red light before driving through the intersection? They say your mind goes when you get older; is it a long, slow process, beginning with the total decay of your taste in music? If so, what a mercy to people who are only able to listen to the radio while driving! And finally, as the only song by The Clash they ever play on the rock stations here started up, what the hell is a casbah?

It turns out that it is the Arabic word for a citadel, or fortress. The word citadel comes from cīvitātem (Latin), the literal meaning of which is "little city." According to the OED, cīvitātem referred specifically to the fortified, innermost part of a city. Citadels were typically built on hills, making them easier to defend. The OED notes that the citadel has another purpose besides protection, as illustrated in this quote, dated 1598: FLORIO, Citadella...a citadell, castell, or spacious fort built not onely to defend the citie, but also to keepe the same in awe and subjection.

Florio is John (or Giovanni) Florio; he was a linguist, lexicographer and royal language tutor. Interesting guy! The quote appears to have been taken from his Italian/English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes.

Casbah comes from قصبة, or qasbah. The term is applied to North African citadels or castles, or the city quarter surrounding a casbah. "The Casbah" refers specifically to the Casbah of Algiers, which is located in Algeria and contains mosques dating back to the 1600s.