The Unexpected Origins of Garments Names in Spoken Lebanese (Part 1)

Whatever staunch puritans of the Arabic language might say, the undeniable fact is that our spoken Lebanese language is rife with non-Arabic words and expressions. After all, this is what being at a crossroad of three continents entails.

The ever-evolving fashion and garments lexicon best mirrors this fact, I believe. Fashion is always mutating with time and space, and the same goes for its terminology.

While a great many of garment names in our spoken local language are flagrant loan words from French (such as chapeau, bottes, culottes, écharpe, parka, cardigan, blouse, gilet, cravate etc,), others can be traced back to other cultures that influenced ours.

This latter underwent phonetic changes with time as they adapted to local speech and merged seamlessly with it to the point that they are now mistaken as being of unquestionable Arabic origin.

As follows, I will present an initial list of such terms and explain the etymological process I went through to uncover their real provenance. More would follow in the future, time permitting 😉


1 – Jezden (Turkish-Farsi)


I bet only a handful of you ever doubted that the name of this all-important item in a Lebanese woman’s life is of Turkish origin. Jezden indeed is the local version of Turkish word “Cüzdan” (check how it is pronounced on this link Turkish-Farsi dictionaries online lists the word جزوه دان defining it as “book pocket”.  It makes sense, since Arab-speaking countries in the Levant along with Egypt, use the word “Juzdan”to indicate “Wallet“. In Lebanon, however, it is the exclusive local word for handbag. It is almost certain this word has found its way into the Lebanese dialect during the Ottoman era.

2- Zonnar (Greek)


Zonnar, the common local word for “Belt” is far from being Arabic. In fact, the Arabic language even lacks the Z N R root as can be ascertained by checking classical monolingual dictionaries. Zonnar indeed derives from the Medieval Greek word ζωνάρι (pronounced Zonari i.e. the girdle worn by priests). Zonari is supposed to have entered Lebanese dialect through Syriac (Aramaic), the lingua franca predating spoken Arabic in the Levant area that has solid connections with the Greek language due to religious ties. The word Zonnar is very interesting in my regard. Despite its foreign origin, it has many local declensions: such as verb “Zannar” (To encircle), an occupation name (Zananiri, i.e. belt-maker or belt seller)  and even the well-known Mouzannar surname (or M’zannar, i.e He who wears a belt).

3- Scarbineh (French)


The etymological quest for this very popular item was an easy one. Even though my first instinct was to assign it to Italian origins (Scarpa, i.e. generic name for shoes), I came to the ultimate conclusion that the French word “Escarpin” i.e. women pumps, is the undisputed source for Scarbineh.

It should be noted that neighboring countries mostly use “Kindara” or “Kundara”, a term reportedly of Turkish origins.  



4 – Tannoura (Syriac)


The Skirt or “Tannoura”, holds a prominent place in our social culture and idioms. Not only it refers to the garment itself, but “Tannoura” can also indicate adult females as a whole. A man who loves “tnenir” for instance, is a hopeless philanderer to avoid. Tannoura was even the subject of a popular Lebanese song in the last decade ( However, the jury is still out as to the certain origins of the term. The one thing foremost monolingual classical dictionaries including Lisaan el Arab, agree on, is that its origins are foreign (or Ajami which means Persian or Syriac), since skirts were not part of the traditional Arab clothing. My search in available Farsi dictionaries did not come up with a definite conclusion. The most convincing entry I found so far is Syriac “Tanourta” probably deriving from Tannour (furnace), due to their similar shapes (The tannour oven has indeed a smaller upper diameter and a larger one on its lower part, much like a flared skirt ( 


5 – Shel ( Farsi/Sanskrit)


Another garment whose name does not derive from Arabic, unbeknownst to the overwhelming majority, is Shal (pronounced Shel in Lebanese). This versatile piece of cloth, that was sung by Feiruz herself ( has origins far more remote than we thought. Called Shawl in English, Shala/Shalo in Syriac, شال in Farsi, its name derives from दुशाला duśālā, ultimately from Sanskrit: शाटी śāṭī (strip of cloth pronounced [ˈsaːri].) The deep eastern provenance of this item is only logical as it is used to cover the hair and the shoulder of women in religious societies.


That’s it for now folks. See you soon in another batch of apparel-related etymological discoveries.




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