There’s an extremely interesting discussion going on over at Jabal al-Lughat. Lameen starts by pointing out that “in all dialects of Arabic, adjectives normally follow the noun” but quotes T. M. Johnstone (Eastern Arabian Dialect Studies, Oxford UP 1967):

The (Persian) adjective kooš precedes the noun it qualifies. It does not occur in association with defined nouns. It is not inflected for gender or number. Thus:
  kooš walad, bint  a good boy, girl

and asks about the situation of the word in Persian (where it is now pronounced khoš and its meaning is ‘pleasant, happy’ rather than ‘good’). Much interesting discussion follows; MMcM (a frequent commenter in these parts) gives a useful link to Paul Horn’s Grundriss der neupersischen Etymologie, where you can see related words in the Iranian languages, and bulbul (ditto) quotes Haim Blanc’s Communal dialects in Baghdad. The most recent comment at the moment is by Eli (I don’t know whether he’s the Eli Timan mentioned by Peter Austin in this thread), who says:

1- khOsh is used in all Iraqi dialects. it is common to both noun-adjective and adjective-noun sentence structre positions, although it is normally placed before the noun it qualifies. It is of common gender and number. Examples خوش ولد خوش بنت
2- It behaves almost like an adverb, and denotes more than just ‘Good’. It is like aHsan walad (best boy). It emphasises the quality of the noun it qualifies…

(He gives more information on the word’s use and connotations.) I find all this fascinating, and I look forward to whatever else may turn up on the word’s origins, spread, and syntactical oddities.


  1. I wonder if its function is like the kind of emphatic reduplication in English discussed in this paper by Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen and Kevin Russell, talking about utterances such as, “I like him, but I don’t LIKE-like him, if you know what I mean” or “It’s TUNA salad, not SALAD-salad.” That reduplication “emphasizes the quality of the X it qualifies”…though it can apply to any category, not just nouns.

  2. Ilmarinen says

    I wonder if it’s related somehow to the Russian хорошо.

  3. Probably not; the etymology of хорошо is unclear, and one hypothesis is that it’s from Ossetian khorz, which is related to Avestan khwarz-, but that’s presumably a different root, and Vasmer calls it doubtful anyway.

  4. Eskandar Jabbari says

    As I mentioned over at Lameen’s blog, “khosh” is believed to be derived from Avestan “khash,” so I think you’re right to presume that “khwarz” is a different root.

  5. caffeind says

    ‘Good’ is also one of the few adjectives that can precede the noun in French and Spanish where adjectives normally follow.

  6. marie-lucie says

    In French, not only it can, but it almost always does, unless preceded by a modifier, when it could be in either place: un bon café “a good (type or cup of) coffee” is the only option but you could say un très bon café (the usual description) or un café très bon (which would imply comparison with other types of coffee).
    For persons, the adjective placed before the noun means “good” in general, but after the noun it has the moral meaning of “good” (kind, compassionate, etc). Un bon professeur is a good teacher, while un professeur bon would imply moral qualities rather than teaching performance.
    In a few expressions the word for “good” and the following noun form a unit with a particular meaning, for instance un bonhomme and une bonne femme: these words don’t mean “a good man” (which would be un homme bon) and “a good woman”, but suggest that the persons so described are probably middle-aged and very ordinary in appearance, behaviour or intellect, in any case not people the speaker would be inclined to socialize with. For instance, suppose you are in line (queuing) for movie tickets and the person in front of you starts making a fuss for no good reason. Relating this incident to a friend, you could refer to that person as le bonhomme or la bonne femme.
    On the other hand, you can use the word bonhomme (but not bonne femme) affectionately, for instance refer to a small boy as un petit bonhomme, or an older woman could refer to her husband as mon bonhomme, suggesting that they have achieved a comfortable and tolerant relationship through their many years together.
    In English there are the archaic terms Goodman and Goodwife, the latter evolving into Goody, as in Goody Two-Shoes. In a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne dealing with early American history, the main character is Young Goodman Brown. Goody and Goodman were not names, but terms of address, apparently used with persons below the social level of Mr, Mrs and Miss.
    It is possible that there are subtleties of this kind in the use of the word translated simply as “good” in Arabic.

  7. caffeind says

    It’s also amusing that Persian has the word bad, with meaning “bad”. I assumed this was a shared IE inheritance, but apparently there’s an Arabic word something like it.

  8. Thanks Marie-Lucie for an interesting example of the usage of bon. I am reminded two peculiarities in modern Russian, one also related to the adjective meaning “good.” Normally, an adjective precedes a noun it modifies, so, for example, «хороший мальчик» has a neutral meaning, “good boy,” but when used after the noun, e.g., «господин хороший», qualifying the 2nd person in direct speech, expresses a reproach. I skipped a homework of looking up literary examples, but, off the top of my head, «что же Вы, господин хороший, на помощь не позвали?», “why did not you call for help, you flop?” does not mention any fine gentleman. This usage must have developed in the early 19th century, as far as I can remember, but I do not feel very confident of the time.
    The second one expresses the excellence/opposition of one item of/to a class, like the relative semanitcs of khosh if I am correctly understanding it, has its place in colloquial rather than literary speech, and eccentrically uses the plural dative: «всем мальчикам мальчик», lit. “boy to all boys.” This construction accepts any countable noun, and is not a recent development as well; I am not sure how old it is.
    Also, Chernych prefers a different etymology of хорошо from the deity name Chors (Хърсъ, Хръсъ or Хъросъ), an Apollo’s compeer in his Olympic duties; the full voicing is attested in the hydronym Хоросея (1628) and the toponym Хóросино. Generally, the etymology of most non-borrowings in х- is obscure; still, no relation to khosh is even remotely possible.

  9. It’s also amusing that Persian has the word bad, with meaning “bad”. I assumed this was a shared IE inheritance, but apparently there’s an Arabic word something like it.
    No, it’s not related to English bad (nor to anything in Arabic)—it’s an Iranian word (Middle Persian vat) that just happens to coincide in sense and meaning with an English one.

  10. “Bonhomme” meaning “husband” reminds me of the American subcultural word “old lady”, which can mean either wife/girlfriend or (for a teenager or less) mother. It’s affectionate and familiar but realistic, and more implies “a comfortable and tolerant relationship” than adoration. I suspect that the term is used mostly by guys who are grateful that their mate is long-suffering, loyal, and more sensible than they are.

  11. marie-lucie says

    In French, “mon bonhomme” would be referring to just this type of husband!

  12. Hello Hat, how r u?
    M in a NY state of mind these daze, tho I can still express myself in proper English so plz forgive the chat spk or texting language.
    Thanks for doing what you’re doing in the blog and “stuff.” (lol)… I hope some day you find greater rewards, though I suspect you enjoy doing “it” just for the hell of “it.”
    Aloha for now, and peace be to the rest of you all linguists and philology lovers.

  13. In Italian, prefixed adjectives are non-restrictive, whereas postfixed ones are restrictive. La divina Commedia was so named[1] as a compliment to its author, whereas una commedia divina would be so called in opposition to una commedia humana.

    [1] By Boccaccio, as it happens; Dante himself titled the work simply Comedia [sic].

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