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. Continue reading