No, that’s not a multicultural dinner menu, it’s a couple of interesting etymologies I ran across in my research for my last post.

Fajita is an American Spanish diminutive of faja ‘band, strip,’ from Latin fascia ‘band, bandage,’ which is the source of fascism. Would Mussolini have liked fajitas?

And falafel is from Arabic fala:fil, no surprise there, but that’s the plural of filfil ‘pepper.’ I had no idea.


  1. Chicken fajitas are part of my personal “small world” story, since I found them on the menu at a nondescript restaurant in Kostenai, a provincial capital in Kazakhstan that is over 1000 miles from Almaty and several thousand miles from Moscow (this restaurant a single copy of an English language menu, unusual in that area, but I was told that the word was the same in the Russian ).. Unsurprisingly, they were below Taco Bell quality.

  2. arthur,
    could it be the name of the city is actually Kustanai or they changed it to Kostenai (may be that sounds closer to Kazakh)? Like Alma-Ata that I knew of in Soviet times is called Almaty now.
    On tangent: googling for Almaty, I found an oficial site of Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, and in article on history of the city’s names found this:
    …This city was originally founded as a fortress in 1824 and named Akmolinsk. It was renamed Tselinograd (Russian for Virgin City*)…
    A few immediate ideas sprang to my mind – not publishable here, alas.
    Anyone to join in the fun?(in printable English, of course)
    * For no-Russian-speakers: “tselinA” means “soil that was never used for agriculture, new fields” Esteemed translator is apparently more familiar with vulgarities: in slang, “tsElka” (same stem as in “tselina”) means “virgin”, by obvious logic. TsElyi (adj.) means unrepaired, complete; antonym to damaged.

  3. I think that “fajita” originally referred to a way of cooking meat from beef diaphragm muscle, otherwise (I think) known as “skirt steak”.
    And that etymology for “falafel” means that it’s related to “pilpul”:
    Who knew?

  4. I call it Kostanai because it wa introducted to me that way, but Kostanay, Kustanai, Qustanoy and a few other variants all refer to the same place. The local web site: http://www.kostanay.net. Most places in Kazakhstan seem to have at least two names, one Kazakh and the other Russian; frequently they seem quite similar. E.g. Almaty is also Alma-ata. Some places like Astana also have a Soviet name. Transliteration from Russian is standardized, but transliteration from Kazakh offers several options (Kazakh is written with Cyrillic letters, but at least two additional characters), so the possibilities in English multiply. Of so I was told; I’m just a monolingual American.

  5. Fasces = bundle. An “ancient Roman symbol of the regal and later the magisterial authority. The fasces were cylindrical bundles of wooden rods, tied tightly together, from which an axe projected; they were borne by guards, called lictors, before praetors, consuls, proconsuls, dictators, and emperors. The fasces, which symbolize unity as well as power, have often been used as emblems, e.g., on the arms of the French republic and on American coins. Italian Fascism derived its name and its emblem from the fasces”.

  6. Only remotely on topic, but during my medical-supply phase I found that the European words for bandage tape are not usually cognate: tape, sparadrap, pfleister, ruban, cinta(“”””””””””) all named the same thing.
    Kyrgystan’s “Bishkek” once was Frunze. Frunze actually may be a Turkish word, but it was the name of a Soviet hero.

  7. He was a hero, that is, until Stalin decided he’d be better off dead, as the best heroes are. (I believe his doctors didn’t want to operate on his stomach ulcer because it would kill him, but Uncle Joe insisted they go ahead.) Also, when he was born in Bishkek it was called Pishpek. I love that pair of names.

Speak Your Mind