I’m continuing to read Abulafia’s The Great Sea (see this post), and I have to share this striking passage (the year is 1867, and Ismail is Isma’il Pasha):

Politically, Ismail found he had to steer a careful course. He persuaded the Sublime Porte to grant him a new title and the automatic right of succession through eldest sons, and saw this, with some justice, as recognition that he was now to all intents an independent sovereign. The Turks reluctantly dredged up an old Persian title, ‘khedive’, whose exact meaning was apparent to no one, but which seemed to be an assertion of regal authority. On the other hand, Ismail had good reason to be alarmed at the development of the powers of the Suez Canal Company, which acted, at least towards European settlers in the canal zone, as an autonomous government. The erosion of Egyptian control over the canal was already under way.

I always found “khedive” a confusing title, and now I see it was meant to be. (The etymology, from the American Heritage Dictionary: French khédive, from Turkish hidiv, from Persian khidēw, lord, from Middle Persian khwadāy, from Old Iranian khvadāta-.)

Update. See my comment below for the updated AHD etymology.


  1. George Gibbard says

    There is something fishy about the AHD’s etymology: Middle Persian khwadāy regularly yields Persian khodā ‘God’ (though nā-khodā, appearing to mean ‘Godless’, actually means ‘ship’s captain’). If khidēw is cognate, which looks dubious, it must be borrowed from some other Iranian language. Meanwhile, if khwadāy is from khvadāta-, why has the t gone to y? cf. the regular development in dāta– > dād ‘law’ (khvadāta-, attested in Avestan, is from this word plus khva– ‘own, self’s’).

  2. Excellent points all. I suppose it’s too much to hope for that an AHD etymologist would weigh in…

  3. That starts to sound an awful lot like ходатай, but Fasmer seems to suggest that’s just from ход…

  4. Horn.

  5. marie-lucie says

    In French I knew le khédive (pronounced “kédiv”) as an old-fashioned, vaguely Oriental title (“oriental” referring to the Middle East, not East Asia) but I associate it mostly with old-fashioned bistros, for which it is or was a common name. A bistro is not a fancy or even fast-food restaurant but mostly a “bar-tabac” dispensing both alcohol and tobacco products, as well as postage stamps (all of which being under government control). The link between the ruler of Egypt and a bistro must be through Egyptian cigarettes. I think that khédive had been used around the time of the building of the Suez canal but had later fallen into disuse. When I was a child the ruler of Egypt was le roi Farouk ‘King Faruk’.

    As to the word khédive itself, the TLFI mentions Turkish xedi:w (my retranscription) from Persian xudaiw, itself derivative from xuda: ‘God, lord’. There is no mention of a possible -ta suffix.

  6. Egypt, just one universe away, still has a hereditary Khedive (though it’s a republic). It also has the Scots (really Irish) of Egypt and their language, Coptic Creole Irish, elaborated by me from a throwaway phrase in an L. Sprague de Camp story.

  7. There’s a Khedive Ave. in Toronto, neighbor to Rajah St. and the avenues Sultana and Ameer. Odd woman out, so to speak, is Regina Ave. The area was developed soon after WWII ended, perhaps even as Farouk took leave of his throne for France’s Mediterranean coast.

  8. Michael E. says

    I have a customer in the area. There’s also Ranee Ave, which intersects with Khedive and goes under the Allen.

  9. How do you pronounce Khedive Ave?

  10. Michael E. says

    It’s a short street–I haven’t actually heard the name pronounced. I only remember it because there is or was a not very good Mexican restaurant nearby on Bathurst.

  11. For what it is worth, the Arabic encyclopedia “al-Munajid” only says that it is a title granted to the Sultan Pasha Ismail in 1867 and his successors.

  12. Michael Dunn says

    When Turkey entered the Great War in 1914, Britain declared a protectorate in Egypt and changed the ruler’s title to Sultan. In 1922, with Egypt’s nominal independence, it was changed to King.

  13. The etymology in the AHD needs revision, but there is no staff etymologist at the AHD any longer, since the layoff of most of the staf from that dictionary in 2011.

    For the Indo-Iranian antecedents of ḫıdiv (so to be read, according to Redhouse, page 36), Language Hat readers can consult the Encyclopaedia Iranica article on Bactrian:

    “The title G xoadēo “lord” (Sogd. xwtʾw, Mid. Pers. xwadāy, xwadāwan, etc., all from *xwa- “self” plus forms of *taw- “to be powerful”) is a calque on Greek auto-krátōr (A. Meillet, MSL 17, 1911, pp. 109-12).”

    Sometime in the future, the etymology in the AHD will be revised with a cross reference to a different Proto-Indo-European root, *teuH-.

  14. Sorry, hıdiv, not ḫıdiv, a cutting and pasting error.

  15. Patrick! You’re exactly the etymologist I was hoping would weigh in. Thanks, I’ve amended the entry in my AHD accordingly.

  16. I have a customer in the area.

    I grew up in the area (Kereven St.) and Ernest Klein lived and toiled almost precisely 300 yards due west (top end of Barse St.).

    There’s also Ranee Ave.

    Yup. Forgot to mention it. It’s an old street (in New World terms, of course). It’s essentially a continuation of Melrose Ave., on the other side of Bathurst, which I remember when it was bereft of storm sewers and paved with concrete, not asphalt. Some of the northbound Bathurst buses used to go only as far as Melrose; I think they go pretty much to James Bay today. Ranee and Melrose neatly divide the Dufferin-Yonge-Wilson-Lawrence rectangle into two 500-acre plots; let Bathurst do the cutting and you’ve got four 250-acre plots. Cf the old “City Limits” bus terminal just above Melrose on Yonge.

    How do you pronounce Khedive Ave?

    KEDD-eye-v (two syllables).

    A few blocks south of that area is a street called Saranac. A bus driver on whose bus I regularly found myself coming home from school would call out street names as the bus approached its stops. His routine at this point was “SARanac, Woburn, Cranbrooke and SarAnac. (Nobody from the area used the latter pronunciation.)

    Anybody know the term “monster home”? My childhood home, as were many in the area, was a small (~1,200 sq ft) bungalow sitting on a lot that measured 50′ wide by 150′ deep. Over the last few decades almost all of these houses were bought for a khedive’s ransom without the purchaser even entering the place. The house was knocked down, saving only (sometimes) some of the basement walls, and a two-story “monster home” of triple or more the original in size was erected in its place.

  17. Oops. Didn’t close the italics properly. Is it possible to request a typographical fix-up?

    And I should really do a recount of those acres: The Dufferin-Yonge-Wilson-Lawrence rectangle is 2,000 acres. The area divides into four 500-acre plots. (See why I do words and not numbers?)

  18. KEDD-eye-v (two syllables).

    Thanks! And no need to specially request a typographical fix-up; whenever I see an HTML fail, I go in and fix it. It’s the least I can do, since LH doesn’t have a preview function any more.

  19. Hi Hat! I figured you meant me. To add further precision to the etymology of Ottoman خدیو hıdiv, from Persian خدیو khidēv, the reflex of a borrowing of Bactrian χοαδηο, χοδδηο, xoadēo, xoddēo, your readers can also consult Yakubovich, page 478.

  20. Thanks! In brief, Yakubovich is throwing cold water on the idea that the Iranian word is a calque of Greek αὐτοκράτωρ.

  21. It’s the least I can do

    The Hattics at large thank you.

    Furthermore, it has to be less time-consuming, if more difficult, than deleting all that spam.

  22. A major character (based, apparently, on an historical French collaborator) in Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano’s La Ronde de Nuit is called the Khédive, apparently after his favourite brand of cigarette. I found the name worked well to conjure up Oriental mystery and Oriental cruelty at one and the same time.

  23. marie-lucie says

    Russian Dinosaur, great find! I did not grow up among smokers, but I vaguely thought that I had seen the name on cigarette packages, a long time ago, as well as on the outside of some bistros, for which my memory is more recent.

  24. Just checked the online AHD and discovered they’ve updated their etymology, which now reads:

    [French khédive, from Ottoman Turkish hıdiv, from Persian khidēv, lord, from Bactrian xoadēo, from Old Iranian *xva-tāvya-; see s(w)e- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]


  1. […] Hat notes the etymology of the Egyptian title of “khedive”, apparently obscure for a […]

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