Getting Your Wordsworth

September 13, 1990|By Joseph Gallagher

IRAQI PRESIDENT Saddam Hussein has called for a jihad -- a holy war, against the U.S. Jihad in Arabic simply means a contest, a struggle to which one ''applies'' oneself. Arab (whence Arabia and Araby) is Arabic for a desert dweller, a

desert/er. A Bedouin is also a desert dweller, but here the emphasis is on the idea of a camp (badw). A desert is land that is deserted. (Dessert is what is served after the main course has been cleared away, i.e., de-served.) Most of Arabia is ruled by the Saud family. Saudi Arabia is the only country named after a family.

The chief religion of the Arabs is Islam -- the religion of ''surrender'' to Allah, as preached by the Arab Mohammed. The Prophet's name means ''praised,'' as does the ''Judah'' that gives us Jew. A Moslem (Muslim, Mussulman) is one who has ''surrendered.'' The root Arabic letters ''s/l/m'' pertain to being safe, being at peace -- because you have surrendered, $l accepted. The greeting, salaam, is from the same root, as is the Hebrew shalom. Some scholars think our expression ''so long,'' derives from the ''salaam'' heard from Arabic sailors.

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