Lameen Souag, in his Jabal al-Lughat post No, Berber isn’t descended from Arabic, rebuts some “unscientific jingoistic claptrap” that claims what the title denies. But the comment thread turns into a discussion of one of his examples, a Berber word that is borrowed from Arabic: “abrid ‘road’ < Ar. barīd بريد (confirmed by the Tuareg pronunciation of this word, abărid)." Lameen explains that "barīd (primary meaning in modern standard Arabic: post) comes from Greek beredos 'post-horse', which is from Latin veredus 'post-horse'," but then it turns out that "barīd might be a borrowing into Arabic from Persian, rather than Greek - in which case the word for this key tool of government has been passed on from one empire to the next ever since the Akkadians." It's well worth a read by anyone interested in these things.


  1. I happen to have a digital copy of Manfred Ullmann’s Zur Geschichte des Wortes barīd “Post” Lameen refers to. The folks at the thread have basically covered most of it, so I’ll just add that the suggestion that Hebrew “pered” = “mule” has something to do with “barīd” apparently comes from Lane and also crops up in Gesenius’ works. Ullmann also mentions Heinrich Zimmern’s Akkadische Lehnwörter als Beweis für babylonischen Kultureinfluss, where Zimmerns cites Akkadian “purīdu, pirīdu” = “someone in a hurry”, from which “leg” and “courier” are derived.

  2. For what it’s worth, in Jordan a post office is called a “maktab al bareed”.

  3. Although the argument does not seem to hinge upon it, Leo Wiener’s work covers a broad spectrum of credibility. First Slavic languages professor in America, translator and editor of Tolstoy. Historian and anthologist of Yiddish. All solid. Pre-historic Africans founded South America. Germanic tribes had no early laws of their own. The Gothic language is a fake. Less so; if more fun. Teetotaling vegetarian. Eminently sensible, but perhaps only if you ask me. He is Norbert’s father and went to school with Zamenhof as a boy.

  4. Hmmm

  5. I’m siding with Nijma – my Arabic lessons in school taught me that Bareed (spelled as you posted) means “post”.
    Not that it’s far fetched to see a semantic relation between mail and roads…

  6. It’s also “cold”, yes?

  7. nope that’d be bārid

  8. nope that’d be bārid

  9. Yuval,
    Ullmann gives the following basic meanings of “barīd” in Classical Arabic:
    1. courier, messenger
    2. post-horse
    3. post, postal service, messenger service
    4. post route
    5. post station
    6. postmaster, and
    7. post in general.

  10. marie-lucie says

    The word “post” has plenty to do with roads. In former times, the mail (what little there was) went by couriers on horseback. In Europe there were relay stations (posts) at regular intervals along roads, which maintained horses so that the courier could just change horses and continue on his way without having to wait for his own horse to eat and rest. Later, when regular coach lines were established, the same relay stations enabled coaches (also carrying the mail) to change horses and go on. The word “mail” is from the French “malle” ‘trunk’ in which the letters were kept as they travelled.

  11. Bill Walderman says

    As one of the comments on the Jabal Al-Lughat site notes, the Latin word ueredus from which the Greek word beredos is derived is an importation from a Celtic language, specifically, Gallic, according to the Oxford Latin Dictionary, which cites a Welsh cognate. The Celtic word is apparently also the source of German Pferd and Dutch paard, according to one of the comments on the Jabal Al-Lughat site. That would be almost as interesting an etymological journey as the possibility that the Arabic word might ultimately be derived from Akkadian.

  12. I’m siding with Nijma – my Arabic lessons in school taught me that Bareed (spelled as you posted) means “post”.
    I’m not sure what you mean about “siding with Nijma”; nobody’s denying that barīd means ‘post’ in modern Arabic, it says so right up there: “barīd (primary meaning in modern standard Arabic: post).” The discussion is about the etymology.

  13. Bill Walderman says

    A comment on the Jabal al-Lughat site suggests that the Persian word was an Islamic-period borrowing from Arabic, not vice versa. If so, the dissemination of the word from ancient Gaul through Latin, Greek and Arabic all the way to Berber and Persian, along with its Welsh and Germanic cognates, is quite remarkable in itself.

  14. Are barīd and bārid from the same triconsonantal root?

  15. caffeind,
    yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

  16. marie-lucie says

    A French article on homonymy (“La cerise sur le gâteau”) agrees that Latin ueredus is the source of German Pferd, etc but cites a different link of Arabic with Persian:
    [le mot arabe] barîd pourrait aussi venir du persan baridah dum: qui a la queue coupée, signe distinctif des mules de la poste (with reference to “Lane 1863”).
    “(Arabic) Bareed might also be from Persian baridah dum “with cut tail”, a distinctive sign of the (Persian) post mules”.
    I take it that there may be problems with Lane’s proposal, on which I am not qualified to comment.

  17. The burīdah dum etymology is taken from medieval Arabic authors like Yaqut. It is apparently true that post-horses’ tails were docked; but the vowels don’t match as well, and Latin veredus is apparently attested from much earlier.

  18. Bareed (spelled as you posted)
    Hans Wehr gives the following meanings for برد and its forms in MSA:
    1) to be or become cold
    2) to file (a piece of metal, etc.)
    3) garment
    4) to send by mail, to mail
    5) to look up alphabetically
    6) papyrus
    7) Barada, name of a river in Syria
    “post, mail” بريد which he transcribes as barīd, is included in the meaning #4
    The word I would use for “post office” that I spelled phonetically as maktab al-bareed I meant as a colloquial usage (Modern Standard Arabic is not actually spoken anywhere–it is a construct). I would spell it مكتب البريد, which in this case is probably really really similar to, if not the same as MSA and probably quite close to Hat’s more northern dialect of Arabic as well.

  19. marie-lucie says

    Thanks, Lameen. So the chain starting with Celtic ends with Arabic, not Persian, through the Roman (Latin) and Byzantine (Greek) empires. The ueredus must have been a breed of horse that proved particularly suitable for the purpose.

  20. The burīdah dum etymology is taken from medieval Arabic authors like Yaqut.
    When it says “God is the most knowing” at the end, twice, that is not the best sign of authenticity.
    When I was looking for the source of Islamic sayings like “Seek knowledge even as far as China”, I found the descriptions of the hadiths the scholars considered to be “weak” often ended with some statement like “Allah knows best”.

  21. if i remember my hans wehr (which sadly i left back in the states), look up alphabetically means you need to actually look that particular collection of letters up alphabetically.

  22. Yes Kellen, the Wehr organizes content alphabetically by Arabic root. It is strictly Arabic-English but not the other way around. The Ullman looks interesting but expensive–Bulbul is always coming up with the most curious stuff.

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