Advertisement Close

Shawarma Makes it to Webster’s

posted on: Jul 15, 2009

BY: Ameera David/Contributing Writer

It’s official. Not one, but two words from the Arabic language are being inducted into the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary- Eleventh edition. The first is not unknown to anyone who has ever experienced the fine world of Middle-Eastern Cuisine. It is none other than the renowned shawarma, which Webster’s defines as a sandwich of sliced lamb or chicken, vegetables, and often tahini, wrapped in pita bread. In contrast, the second word, haram, is more exclusively known by Arabic speaking individuals. Haram is defined as something forbidden by Islamic law, and it finds use in a multitude of contexts.

Unbeknownst to many, shawarma and haram are not the first to grace the pages of America’s best-selling dictionary. They will be joining the Arabic terms hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, kibbe, arrak, and salaam alaykum. Furthermore, they will not be making their debut alone. Webster’s Dictionary will introduce about one hundred additional English word entries. While the entries are typically not refuted, a common marvel for many is how it is determined what words will be introduced.

Merriam-Webster editors say they decide which words to include by studying the language as it’s used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them. Citations are carefully collected and traced for a large number of words. However, in order for a word to gain serious consideration, it must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment and meaning. In other words, shawarma and haram were not granted space impulsively.

In reaction to the induction news, 24 year-old, Palestinian-American, Lillian Kishek surprisingly replied, “Are you telling me habibie [a term of endearment meaning sweetheart] is not in there yet? What a shame!” She quickly turned to a tone of seriousness however, “I really do think it’s good for Americans to come across Arabic words like this because it’s a reminder that Arabs actually have a culture…a culture that’s rich with great food, arts, and major societal contributions”.

Perhaps Kishek is correct. As long as habibie is solely defined as a former Indonesian President from the 90s, it can be argued that the dictionary has significant room for improvement. All in all, it’s fair to assume that some Arab Americans will critique the dictionary’s flaws, and some will enjoy basking in a little thing called pride.