Etymology
Advertisement

Words related to al-

almanac (n.)

late 14c., "book of permanent tables of astronomical data," attested in Anglo-Latin from mid-13c., via Old French almanach or directly from Medieval Latin almanachus, a word of uncertain origin and the subject of much speculation. The Latin word is often said to be ultimately from Arabic somehow, but an exact phonological and semantic fit is wanting: OED connects it to a supposed Spanish-Arabic al-manakh "calendar, almanac," which is possibly ultimately from Late Greek almenichiakon "calendar," which itself is said to be of Coptic origin. But the author of English words of Arabic Ancestry makes a detailed case  "that the word almanac was pseudo-Arabic and was generated within the circle of astronomers in Paris in the mid 13th century."

One-year versions, showing correspondence of days of the week and month, ecclesiastical calendars, etc., date from 16c.; "astrological and weather predictions appear in 16-17th c.; the 'useful statistics' are a modern feature" [OED].

Advertisement
alchemy (n.)
Origin and meaning of alchemy

"medieval chemistry; the supposed science of transmutation of base metals into silver or gold" (involving also the quest for the universal solvent, quintessence, etc.), mid-14c., from Old French alchimie (14c.), alquemie (13c.), from Medieval Latin alkimia, from Arabic al-kimiya, from Greek khemeioa (found c.300 C.E. in a decree of Diocletian against "the old writings of the Egyptians"), all meaning "alchemy," and of uncertain origin.

Perhaps from an old name for Egypt (Khemia, literally "land of black earth," found in Plutarch), or from Greek khymatos "that which is poured out," from khein "to pour," from PIE root *gheu- "to pour" [Watkins, but Klein, citing W. Muss-Arnolt, calls this folk etymology]. The word seems to have elements of both origins.

Mahn ... concludes, after an elaborate investigation, that Gr. khymeia was probably the original, being first applied to pharmaceutical chemistry, which was chiefly concerned with juices or infusions of plants; that the pursuits of the Alexandrian alchemists were a subsequent development of chemical study, and that the notoriety of these may have caused the name of the art to be popularly associated with the ancient name of Egypt. [OED]

The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the." The art and the name were adopted by the Arabs from Alexandrians and entered Europe via Arabic Spain. Alchemy was the "chemistry" of the Middle Ages and early modern times, involving both occult and natural philosophy and practical chemistry and metallurgy. After c. 1600 the strictly scientific sense went with chemistry, and alchemy was left with the sense "pursuit of the transmutation of baser metals into gold, search for the universal solvent and the panacea."

alcohol (n.)

1540s (early 15c. as alcofol), "fine powder produced by sublimation," from Medieval Latin alcohol "powdered ore of antimony," from Arabic al-kuhul "kohl," the fine metallic powder used to darken the eyelids, from kahala "to stain, paint." The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the."

Paracelsus (1493-1541) used the word to refer to a fine powder but also a volatile liquid. By 1670s it was being used in English for "any sublimated substance, the pure spirit of anything," including liquids.

The sense of "intoxicating ingredient in strong liquor" is attested by 1753, short for alcohol of wine, which then was extended to "the intoxicating element in fermented liquors." The formerly preferred terms for the substance were rectified spirits or brandy.

In organic chemistry, the word was extended by 1808 to the class of compounds of the same type as this (a 1790 translation of Lavoisier's "Elements of Chemistry" has alkoholic gas for "the combination of alkohol with caloric").

algebra (n.)

"formal mathematics; the analysis of equations; the art of reasoning about quantitative relations by the aid of a compact and highly systematized notation," 1550s, from Medieval Latin algebra, from Arabic "al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wa al-muqabala" ("the compendium on calculation by restoring and balancing"), the title of the famous 9c. treatise on equations by Baghdad mathematician Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Arabic al jabr ("in vulgar pronunciation, al-jebr" [Klein]) "reunion of broken parts" (reducing fractions to integers in computation) was one of the two preparatory steps to solving algebraic equations; it is from Arabic jabara "reintegrate, reunite, consolidate." Al-Khwarizmi's book (translated into Latin in 12c.) also introduced Arabic numerals to the West. John Dee (16c.) calls it algiebar and almachabel. The accent shifted 17c. from second syllable to first.

The same word was used in English 15c.-16c. to mean "bone-setting," as was Medieval Latin algebra, a usage picked up probably from Arab medical men in Spain.