Coffee Etymology

DEALING WITH THE ETYMOLOGY OF COFFEE — from William H. Ukers’s All About Coffee (1922)

Origin and translation of the word from the Arabian into various languages—Views of many writers

THE history of the word coffee involves several phonetic difficulties. The European languages got the name of the beverage about 1600 from the original Arabic  qahwah, not directly, but through its Turkish form, kahveh. This was the name, not of the plant, but the beverage made from its infusion, being originally one of the names employed for wine in Arabic.

Sir James Murray, in the New English Dictionary, says that some have conjectured that the word is a foreign, perhaps African, word disguised, and have thought it connected with the name Kaffa, a town in Shoa, southwest Abyssinia, reputed native place of the coffee plant, but that of this there is no evidence, and the name qahwah is not given to the berry or plant, which is called  bunn, the native name in Shoa being būn.

Contributing to a symposium on the etymology of the word coffee in Notes and Queries, 1909, James Platt, Jr., said:

The Turkish form might have been written kahvé, as its final h was never sounded at any time. Sir James Murray draws attention to the existence of two European types, one like the Frenchcafé, Italian caffè, the other like the English coffee, Dutch koffie. He explains the vowel o in the second series as apparently representing au, from Turkish ahv. This seems unsupported by evidence, and the v is already represented by the ff, so on Sir James’s assumption coffee must stand for kahv-ve, which is unlikely. The change from a to o, in my opinion, is better accounted for as an imperfect appreciation. The exact sound of ă in Arabic and other Oriental languages is that of the English short u, as in “cuff.” This sound, so easy to us, is a great stumbling-block to other nations. I judge that Dutch koffie and kindred forms are imperfect attempts at the notation of a vowel which the writers could not grasp. It is clear that the French type is more correct. The Germans have corrected their koffee, which they may have got from the Dutch, into kaffee. The Scandinavian languages have adopted the French form. Many must wonder how the hv of the original so persistently becomes ff in the European equivalents. Sir James Murray makes no attempt to solve this problem.

Virendranath Chattopádhyáya, who also contributed to the Notes and Queries symposium, argued that the hw of the Arabic qahwah becomes sometimes ff and sometimes only f or v in European translations because some languages, such as English, have strong syllabic accents (stresses), while others, as French, have none. Again, he points out that the surd aspirate h is heard in some languages, but is hardly audible in others. Most Europeans tend to leave it out altogether.

Col. W.F. Prideaux, another contributor, argued that the European languages got one form of the word coffee directly from the Arabic qahwah, and quoted from Hobson-Jobson in support of this:

Chaoua in 1598, Cahoa in 1610, Cahue in 1615; while Sir Thomas Herbert (1638) expressly states that “they drink (in Persia) … above all the rest, Coho or Copha: by Turk and Arab calledCaphe and Cahua.” Here the Persian, Turkish, and Arabic pronunciations are clearly differentiated. Read More

A Coffee Thesaurus

A COFFEE THESAURUS — From William H. Ukers’s All About Coffee (1922)

Encomiums and descriptive phrases applied to the plant, the berry, and the beverage

The Plant

The precious plant
This friendly plant
Mocha’s happy tree
The gift of Heaven
The plant with the jessamine-like flowers
The most exquisite perfume of Araby the blest
Given to the human race by the gift of the Gods

The Berry

The magic bean
The divine fruit
Fragrant berries
Rich, royal berry
Voluptuous berry
The precious berry
The healthful bean
The Heavenly berry
The marvelous berry
This all-healing berry
Yemen’s fragrant berry
The little aromatic berry
Little brown Arabian berry
Thought-inspiring bean of Arabia
The smoking, ardent beans Aleppo sends
That wild fruit which gives so beloved a drink

The Beverage

Nepenthe
Festive cup
Juice divine
Nectar divine
Ruddy mocha
A man’s drink
Lovable liquor
Delicious mocha
The magic drink
This rich cordial
Its stream divine
The family drink
The festive drink
Coffee is our gold
Nectar of all men
The golden mocha
This sweet nectar
Celestial ambrosia
The friendly drink
The cheerful drink
The essential drink
The sweet draught
The divine draught
The grateful liquor
The universal drink
The American drink
The amber beverage
The convivial drink
The universal thrill
King of all perfumes
The cup of happiness
The soothing draught
Ambrosia of the Gods
The intellectual drink
The aromatic draught
The salutary beverage
The good-fellow drink
The drink of democracy
The drink ever glorious
Wakeful and civil drink
The beverage of sobriety
A psychological necessity
The fighting man’s drink
Loved and favored drink
The symbol of hospitality
This rare Arabian cordial
Inspirer of men of letters
The revolutionary beverage
Triumphant stream of sable
Grave and wholesome liquor
The drink of the intellectuals
A restorative of sparkling wit
Its color is the seal of its purity
The sober and wholesome drink
Lovelier than a thousand kisses
This honest and cheering beverage
A wine which no sorrow can resist
The symbol of human brotherhood
At once a pleasure and a medicine
The beverage of the friends of God
The fire which consumes our griefs
Gentle panacea of domestic troubles
The autocrat of the breakfast table
The beverage of the children of God
King of the American breakfast table
Soothes you softly out of dull sobriety
The cup that cheers but not inebriates
Coffee, which makes the politician wise
Its aroma is the pleasantest in all nature
The sovereign drink of pleasure and health
The indispensable beverage of strong nations
The stream in which we wash away our sorrows
The enchanting perfume that a zephyr has brought
Favored liquid which fills all my soul with delight
The delicious libation we pour on the altar of friendship
This invigorating drink which drives sad care from the heart