12 thoughts on “Do Not Say “Sahara Desert””

  1. I expect that when the Arabic word Sahara originated, it referred to the particular desert the Arabs happened to be in; they didn’t do a world wide exploration, find several places with similar low-water characteristics, and decide to refer to all of them with the generic word Sahara. Has the word in Arabic come to mean desert only over time, as Arabs had need to talk about these other places? If this is the case, Sahara Desert might be tautological now but a thousand years ago it would not have been.

  2. “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.” – Milton Friedman (updated)”

    I take exception to Mellow J.’s quoting Friedman if Friedman didn’t actually update the quote himself, which I assume he did not.

  3. I don’t agree. Sahara may well be the Arabic word for desert but it is our name for a specific desert. We don’t talk about the “Gobi sahara” or the “Simpson sahara” because it’s not our word for desert, it’s someone else’s.

    In fact if you investigate etymology you will find that a lot of our words are actually words from another language that mean (or meant) something different but we have adopted them through a process of evolution that has resulted in their present meaning. To suggest that those words don’t have their current meanings in English simply because they mean something else in another language is silly.

  4. That’s supposed to said by a professional translator? Someone who studied linguistics, philology? Where was it, in Cairo University?

  5. There is an actual phenomena in linguistics (whose technical name escapes me at the moment) in which phrases like “desert desert” commonly pile up in languages. It usually occurs by stacking intensifiers.

    An example in English would be “close proximity”. Saying that something was in proximity wasn’t enough so we had “close” just drive the point home. After a time, the phrase becomes accepted use and merely saying “proximity” no longer serves. Down the road we will probably have something like, “Iimmediate close proximity.”

  6. Dang it. A “preview post” feature would be really handy.

    There is an actual phenomena in linguistics…in which phrases like “desert desert” commonly pile up in languages.

    Pleonasm. I found the Wikipedia article on the subject very interesting, but then I’m a hopeless dork, so YMMV.

    And of course this interaction leads me to link this xkcd comic.

  7. I left my book on etymology at work and am at home today but here’s one I just remembered: Pea-Jacket. “pea” is a word from an older language that means “jacket made from coarse fibres” (or similar). So the “jacket” in there is redundant. But if you said to somebody “I’m wearing a pea” then they’d think you were daft. Sledgehammer is another. Sledge originally meant “large hammer” or something like that. There are plenty more examples.

    I am not a fan of the argument that once something enters common usage then it’s necessarily correct because many phrases in common usage make little sense. While English is a pretty inconsistent language there’s no point making it even less consistent. However I think once a word is in the dictionary we might as well resign ourselves to using it even if it’s a bit redundant.

  8. Arabic, a product of the Arabian peninsula, developed ‘sahra’ in reference to local deserts, not the one up in N. Africa. So, when it was applied to that N. African locale–which would not have had the name prior to the 8th C.–it was as a generic ‘desert’. Neoplasmic construction is indeed what happened when non-Arabic speakers construed the generic to be a specific and made it a modifier of their own generic.

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