Arabic Observations: Same Root Letters, Different Sequence


root: ر-ت-ب / verbal noun of form II / plural: تَرْتيبات / definition: order, sequence

I just couldn’t resist another post in the Arabic Observations series this week! (But an in-demand post about the Hans Wehr dictionary is coming soon! Can you guess what it might be?)

For this post, we’re taking things down to the root again and looking at words with the same root letters in a different sequence. Could there be any connection between the meanings of these words?

The short answer is yes, there can be. But not every set of “same-letters, different-sequence” roots are related in terms of meaning.

Let’s take a look (via the Hans Wehr) at a few pairs to investigate…

ح-م-د and م-د-ح

The roots ح-م-د and م-د-ح both contain the letters د ,ح, and م.

The core meaning of both roots is praise.

خ-ل-ص and ل-خ-ص

With the letters ص ,خ, and ل, we have the roots خ-ل-ص and ل-خ-ص.

The link in meanings? Summarising.

ع-ب-ر and ع-ر-ب

Just take a look at form II of the root ع-ب-ر and form II and IV of the root ع-ر-ب.

All of these verbs have the same meaning: to express.

ر-غ-ر-غ and غ-ر-غ-ر

We’ve come across this pair of quadriliteral verbs before in the post Arabic Observations: Doubled Roots.

Both share the core meaning of gargling.

Now, what does this mean for us?

It’s definitely a point of reflection for other “same-letters, different-sequence” root pairs.

For example, is there a link between عَمَل (“work”) and عِلم (“knowledge”) which both come from roots including the letters ل ,ع, and م?

What about فَقر (“poverty”) and قَفر (“devoid”)?

And can we extract a link between the meanings of the roots و-ف-ق and و-ق-ف and ف-و-ق?

All the more incentive explore your Arabic dictionary!

From another angle, how did these same-letters and similar-in-meaning roots come about? Are their meanings related to the combination of letters themselves or can we attribute these related meanings to etymological events? Or is this phenomenon simply a coincidence that was bound to make an appearance in a lexicon as large as Arabic’s?

Let us know in the comments below whether you have found any more related roots with the same root letters in a different order—I’d love to hear about them!

Don’t forget to check out last week’s literature translation post and I’ll see you on my next post, إلى اللقاء!

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