I seem never to have mentioned the Nigerian anti-Western group Boko Haram here, and that’s a good thing, because if I had I would have spread the usual story that Hausa boko is from English book, and that turns out to be mistaken, according to “The Etymology of Hausa boko” (pdf) by Paul Newman, according to Wikipedia “the world’s leading authority on the Hausa language of Nigeria and on the Chadic language family.” Newman points out that:
1) If English book had been the source, it would have been adopted in Hausa as something like [búukùu] (he gives examples of such words).
2) The word boko “has a related morphological form marked by reduplication, short final vowels, and a set low-low-high-low tone pattern, namely bòokò-bóokò ‘deceptive, fraudulent’ … This pattern is found in Hausa with various other words… This reduplicated construction is unproductive and limited to a small set of words, many of which are now obsolete, thereby indicating that boko must be an old Hausa word with considerable ancestry in the language and not a recent loanword.”
3) It occurs with the word biri ‘monkey’ “as part of a fixed compound biri-boko (lit. monkey-fraud). … That biri-boko is found in Bargery’s dictionary… is a good indication that the compound is of considerable age in the language and hardly a recent creation…”
4) The order of definitions in old dictionaries suggests the original sense was ‘fraud.’
5) “It is perhaps worth pointing out that boko in the sense of something western or secular tended not to be used as an independent noun, like English book (as is now often done), but was almost always used as a modifier.”
6) Finally, “it would have been curious indeed for Hausa to have borrowed the English word book (in the form boko) and have it come to represent despised Western education. In the first place Hausa has long had its own word for book (littafi), which was borrowed at a very much earlier period from Arabic. This word was already well established and fully integrated in the language at a time considerably prior to the British takeover of northern Nigeria and the opening of colonial government schools in Kano at the beginning of the 20th century.”
His conclusion: “Hausa boko does not mean ‘book’ and it is not derived etymologically from the English word book. The phonetic and orthographic similarity between the two is purely coincidental. They are what the French call ‘faux amis’ (‘false friends’).” I was particularly impressed with this frank acceptance of responsibility for the error:
This is not a matter of an occasional reporter or amateur linguist going astray. This is a systematic error that we professional Hausa specialists have perpetuated over the years and thus we deserve real blame for having provided other scholars and the general public with misleading information.
(Thanks for the link, Paul!)