Jan - Mar 2009, Spain

The Islamic Influence on Spanish Phrases and Customs

By Juan Alvarado

Although some Spanish words come from Greek, the Spanish language is considered a Romance language because most Spanish words are descended from Latin. Surprisingly, many of these Spanish words carry an Arabic meaning or concept. The following few examples will give an idea of how these words are used. An example is the Spanish word aceros, meaning both energy and strength. Aceros is a translation of the Arabic word hiddah (meaning sharpness and force). Another example is the Spanish word poridad, which means both purity and friendship, from the Arabic word khalasa (meaning to be pure). Lastly, the Spanish word and concept, vergüenza, has a distinct meaning of both shame and honor. This same concept and meaning is found in the Arabic car.

In addition to words, a number of expressions, refrains, proverbs, and common sayings in Spanish have been translated or adapted from their Arabic equivalent. An example would be “Si Dios quiere.” Other sayings come from the strife that local Muslims and Christians endured during their coexistence within Spain’s Moorish era.

Spanish PhraseMeaning / Derivation
AdelanteThis means “Come in.”
It comes from the Arabic, ItfaDDal.
A más moros, más gananciaThis literally means “The more Moors, the more gain.”
During the wars between the Moors and the Christians, a refrain developed meaning despite the risks and difficulties, the glory lies in the triumph of the Christians.
Bendita sea la madre que te parióThis literally means “Blessed be the mother who gave birth to you!”
It is similar to the English expression, “A face only a mother could love.”
Como moro sin señorThis literally means “Like a Moor without an owner.”
A refrain meaning a union or get together of people where there is great disorder and confusion.
Dios te ayudeThis means “God help you.”
It comes from the Arabic, Allah ya’tik or Allah ya’tuka.
El huesped y la pesca a tres días apestanThis is a refrain that literally means “The guest and fish smell after three days.”
It comes from a famous Hadith [translated below] stating similarly that three days for a guest is enough time before running afoul.
Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his guest generously. The guest’s reward is: To provide him with a superior type of food for a night and a day and a guest is to be entertained with food for three days, and whatever is offered beyond that, is regarded as something given in charity. And it is not lawful for a guest to stay with his host for such a long period so as to put him in a critical position.” – Narrated by Abu Shuraih Al-Ka’bi. Sahih Bukhari 8/73/156.
Es de DiosThis means “It’s from God.”
It comes from the Arabic, “˜Aysh Allah.
Esta es su casaThis is an expression of invitation, “This is your house.”
It is from the Arabic, Hadha Baytukum.
Haber moros en la costaThis literally means “There are Moors in the coast.”
It is a refrain that has the meaning of recommending caution.
Haber moros y cristianosThis literally means “There are Moors and Christians.”
This is a refrain meaning that there is great discord, fighting, arguments, adversity, etc.
Hasta luegoLiterally meaning “Until next time.”
It comes from the Arabic, Ila al-liqaa’.
Mi casa es su casa (and other variants, such as “˜Ha tomado posesión de tu casa)These expressions mean “You’ve taken possession of your house,” which emphasizes the courtesy of extending someones home to others.
It comes from al-Bayt Baytak.
Moros van, moros vienenThis literally means “Moors go, Moors come.”
It is a refrain meaning that there is little left for a person to become completely drunken.
No hay mal de que bien no vengaThis literally means “There is no evil whereby good isn’t inherent.”
It comes from the Islamic belief based in the Quran,
“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not”. – [Quran 2:216]
“O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of the dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.” – [Quran 4:19]
OjaláLiterally, this means “God-willing.”
It comes from the Arabic words, washa’Allah, which means “By God’s will” or lawÅ¡ā Allāh, which is used to express a wish or desire one cannot fulfill. It is a variant of the more common, insha’Allah [ان شاء الله].
¡Olé!The most famous hoopla that is yelled enthusiastically (especially in bullfighting rings) in approval.
It comes from the Arabic words, Wa Allah, meaning “By God.”
Que Dios te guardeA way of saying good-bye that literally means, “May God keep you safe.”
It comes from the Arabic, ma’a salaama, which means the same.
Si Dios quiereA common way of saying maybe, it literally means “God-willing.”
It comes from the Arabic words, Insha’Allah [ان شاء الله]
Vaya con DiosA way of saying good-bye. It literally means “Go with God.”
It comes from the Arabic, Allah ma’ak.
Vaya por DiosA way of saying good-bye meaning “Go with God.”
It comes from the Arabic words, Hadha iradat Allah.
Zegríes y AbencerrajesAn expression which means “Partisans of opposite interests.”
The Abencerrajes (in Arabic Aban as-Sarráj) was an Arab family of the Kingdom of Granada, rivals of the Zegríes in the 15th century.

Some concepts and cultural holdovers that survived passed the Moorish era are as follows:

SpanishMeaning / Derivation
AdemánaD-Díman or aD-Damán (Andalusian Arabic from Classical Arabic, Damán [الضمان], which literally means legal guarantees that were made through exaggerated movements, gestures and expressions). Gesticulation which expresses the will to do something particularly exaggerated gestures. The change of meaning is due to the exaggerated promises and gesticulations which were offered in a plea. Movements, gestures, or expressions that illustrated a point or emotion.
Flamenco musicThis comes from the Arabic, Fallah Manjah meaning “saved farmer” or Fallah Manqu meaning “running farmer.”
Mal de ojoEvil eye, commonly known in Arabic as al-“˜Ayn (العين) which literally means “˜the eye’ or “˜Ayn Hasad (حسد عين) meaning the eye of envy.
It is one of the oldest and most persistent beliefs among human cultures. It is particularly strong in the Middle East, Southern Europe and Asia, although it exists in many other cultures as well.
Moros y CristianosThis is a classic Cuban dish which has spread throughout Latin America and the United States.
The name meaning “Moors and Christians” harks back to the Moorish Spain. This traditional recipe combines black beans, bell peppers, onions, traditional Cuban seasonings, and premium grade long grain rice. The dish is accompanied by some meat, chicken or fish. Also, a public feast and holiday in certain towns in Spain whereby passersby dress up as medieval Arabs and Christians and fighting make-believe battles is also known by this name.
ÑThe use of the “ñ” is unique to the Spanish language. It is a sort of shorthand for the double “˜n’ used in Spanish which had a unique sound (sounding like “˜ny’ or “˜ni’ in English Sonia). A common word in Spanish using this symbol is “Año” (year) which would have been written as “anno.”
The letter itself seems to be a hybridization of two Arabic symbols or concepts. The tilde (~) which itself comes from the Arabic symbol called a maddah (مدة) and serves to elongate the alif sound in Arabic. The ñ also seems to be influenced by the Arabic symbol of shaddah (شدة) also called tashdīd (تشديد) which serves to double the sound of a consonant.
PaellaThis is a Valencian word for the national dish of Spain and the regional specialty of Valencia.
It was originally a dish made of the leftover food from Muslim leaders’ palace where they used to mix fish, meat, chicken and rice and give it to poor people. The dish is also a common dish of many Latin American countries. This dish is made of various sea foods and meats mixed with rice and legumes.

Besides words and concepts, Iberian culture would inherit much from the Arab-Islamic culture. Even the Spanish gazpacho soup is inherited from the Moorish soup khubz mushrib (soaked bread). Another cultural throwback is the choosing of inauspicious names to ward off evil spirits and the evil eye.

In Egypt, for example, you can find some rural families naming their children strange and sometimes offensive names. They do this to prevent harm from coming to them. This is especially true for a family that has had all of its male children die in childhood, or some other misfortune like that. One can find names such as Esh-Shahhat الشحات (the beggar) or Shehata شحاتة (begging) being used. This is not unlike some of the names found among Spanish-speakers such as Dolores meaning pain or the use of ancient Latin and Greek names that have long died out in some other European countries, such as Porfirio or Eusebio.

Other cultural throwbacks are the use of kerchiefs (pañuelos) and long dresses by many women in Latin America, at least up until very recently. Some country women still endeavor to dress modestly and cover themselves which is very similar to the concept of hijab or dressing up modestly in Islam.