jezaa'ir, an antique rifle.

Arrius

Senior Member
English, UK
I was listening to a BBC radio dramatisation today of the John Masters' novel "The Lotus in the Wind" in which a so-called jezayir - I guess the spelling - was retrieved by an officer of the British Raj from a dead tribesman on the Indo-Afghan border in 1879. From the conversation of the characters, I gathered that a jezayir was a beautifully damascened , (even then) antique rifle. I tried in vain to find this word hitherto unknown to me in various English dictionaries and Wikipedia, and finally tracked it down in an ancient Arabic-German dictionary, where I identified it as an Arabic word with this same meaning جزاءر /jezaa'ir/,translated into German as Wallflinte. Flinte I knew to be rifle, musket, or shotgun but I had never seen it prefixed by Wall-. The first part of my question is where does this prefix Wall- come from and what does it mean here? There is in German wallen to move or undulate and Wallfahrt, a pilgrimage,( which seems not to suit the case here) but also the unrelated prefix Wall- meaning foreign or alien as in Walnuß or walnut, cognate of the English words Wales and Welsh, and Swiss German Welschland used for Suisse Romande (French "les velches"). This seems more likely, as such rifles must originally have been imported from from Solingen or Sheffield etc., though, of course not into Germany, but to the Orient. What do other foreros think of this explanation, and do you have a more plausible one? I am also wondering if this Arabic word is connected with the Arabic words for island and/or Algeria (an "island" more or less girdled by sea and sand), and , if so, how? I myself cannot imagine how they can be connected.
 
  • Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I don't know exactly what else جزائر means, but with the definite article (الجزائر) it means Algeria.

    By the way, the German word Wall (rampert) is derived from Latin vallum (= "pilling on the entrenching rampert"), and it has nothing to do with Walnuss, Wallach, and Walisisch (Welsh). ;)
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    You have, indeed, lived up to your nom de plume as a sleuth, Whodunit:thumbsup:: your explanation for the German part of my query is obviously the correct one, but I was unable to see it. This accurate long rifle must have been used by snipers/sharpshooters to pick off distant enemies from the crenellations of the ramparts (Wall) or from other fortifications where they could hold the weapon steady.
    But we now await some other perspicacious person to explain the Algeria (Algiers)/island connexion of the Arabic word جزائر mysteriously used for this firearm.:confused:
    Tschüß,
    A.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    This thread has been hanging about for some time. The German part of it has been solved thanks to Whodunit, but it remains a mystery why a now antique rifle formerly in use in the East was called جزاءر , a jezaayir in English.
     

    faranji

    Senior Member
    portuñol
    Dear Arrius, I also hope your query is solved soon. In Spain there's also the southern town of Algeciras, from the same root.

    Your question is oddly similar to another famous Arabic connection between old fire arms and geographical names: bunduqiyyah (meaning 'rifle') and bunduqi ('Venetian').
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Dear faranji,
    Arabic really twisted Veneto (Veneziano) out of all recognition. One presumes, therefore, that many bunduqiyaat were manufactured by the skilled caftsmen of Venice, a great trading centre also, and home of Marco Polo, who is said to have brought back gunpower from China.
    Probably the answer to my question is that the long damascened rifles referred to by jezaayir were originally manufactured in Algiers rather than imported through Algiers from Europe. North African artisans are noted for their skill and their engravings.
    Obrigado, A.
     

    faranji

    Senior Member
    portuñol
    Thank you for your interesting comments, Arrius. I've forgotten what those long damascened rifles (I'm thinking Delacroix now :)) were called in Spanish.

    Incidentally, as you know, the term damascened comes from Damascus. In Spanish there's yet one more lexical connection between topography and weaponry: a damasquino is a finely engraved kind of knife.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    This thread has been hanging about for some time. The German part of it has been solved thanks to Whodunit, but it remains a mystery why a now antique rifle formerly in use in the East was called جزاءر , a jezaayir in English.
    I'm not sure if that helps you, but I just found out that جزائر (jazaa'ir) is the plural of جزيرة (jaziira) "island". Here's more about this etymology. :)
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    The link is interesting, but the possible connection between the word for island and Algiers has been touched on more than once above. I do not think that we shall ever find out whether these weapons had anything to do with Algiers.
    Danke auf alle Fälle,
    A.;)
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    The link is interesting, but the possible connection between the word for island and Algiers has been touched on more than once above. I do not think that we shall ever find out whether these weapons had anything to do with Algiers.
    Danke auf alle Fälle,
    A.;)
    I'm sorry. I must have missed that above. :eek:

    Nevertheless, you asked about the connection between Algeria and the word for islands, but the Wikipedia article about geographical names' etymologies explains it well, I think. :)
     

    ireney

    Modistra
    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    OK first of all let me say that I know none of the languages involved here; I am just a very, very curious person. Question: could it actually be a Jezail for which I found pictures here and quite a few articles here (both display the first page of my google searches) ?
     

    Qcumber

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Arabic really twisted Veneto (Veneziano) out of all recognition. One presumes, therefore, that many bunduqiyaat were manufactured by the skilled caftsmen of Venice, a great trading centre also, and home of Marco Polo, who is said to have brought back gunpower from China.
    This is odd because Kazimirsky (1860, 1:167) says bunduqiyya(t) "rifle" is derived from bunduq "nut, pellet, bullet, etc." He doesn't mention Venice.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    OK first of all let me say that I know none of the languages involved here; I am just a very, very curious person. Question: could it actually be a Jezail for which I found pictures here and quite a few articles here (both display the first page of my google searches) ? (ireney)

    Well done! I think you've hit the nail on the head. Either jezail is what they were saying in the play or the form I quoted ending in R is an alternative version. This is quite possible when you think how the English loan word for tinned milk in Japanese is miriku, and in a Bantu language I know something of the word for dog can be either garu or galu. However, it was only by looking up the form ending in R in an an Arabic dictionary that I found it at all. But, alas, we still do not know the etymology of the word.

    This is odd because Kazimirsky (1860, 1:167) says bunduqiyya(t) "rifle" is derived from bunduq "nut, pellet, bullet, etc." (Qcumber)

    The Venice connexion, which I found convenient and plausible, was a side issue. I too now recall having noticed a probable derivation of bunduqiyya from the nut-shaped musket ball, and think you too are right, even though there is a great similarity to the Arabic word for Venice.
    Thank you all for your help in getting somewhere near the bottom of this obscure puzzle.
    A. :)
    PS
    Interestingly, the Wikipedia article says it comes from jezzail of a Pashto language. Maybe we have been searching for the meaning in the wrong languages ...(Whodunit)
    Sorry, overlooked this. Pushtu speakers are also Moslems and their language quite similar to Farsi borrows a lot from Arabic, so they probably borrowed it, and the English after them at third hand. I am glad that at least I have seen the word in written English, but you're right, we still haven't got the etymology of it or know who had the word first. By the way, the origin of Algiers from the word for islands referring to the ones just off the coast is new information. I had always thought that the idea was that the whole country was isolated by sea and sand as the word Jazira AlArabiyya is used for the Arabian Peninsula.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I have now had time to have a better look at ireney's interesting links and in the absence of any obvious semantic connection with other similar Arabic words, tend now to the view that it may well have been Pashto or Pushto originally, hence possibly Indoeuropean, in origin. This could be confirmed by a speaker of this language or the related Farsi telling us if there are any indigenous cognates of jezail in these languages.
    Apparently the word turns up in Fraser's Flashman series and the poems of Rudyard Kipling, both dealing with the British Raj in India,which I have read without noticing it.

    It has just occurred to me that the Arabic form may well be connected with the veb slaughter جزر /jazara/ and the derived word for butcher جزار /jazzaar which surely would be too uncanny a coincidence. Pashtu must therefore have borrowed the word and corrupted the ending to fit its own phonetic system. I seem to have been going unnecessarily round in circles.
     

    Spectre scolaire

    Senior Member
    Maltese and Russian
    Apparently, there is something called Cezayir tüfeği, “Algeria gun [tüfek]”, in Turkish, but I have not been able to confirm it from any dictionary. The best candidate is – I would think – A.C. Barbier de Meynard: Dictionnaire turc – français [...], I-II, Paris 1881-86 + anastatic reprint from 1971, a treasure trove with all sort of cultural comments, absolutely indispensable when searching for popular words from the time when Turkish was still Ottoman Turkish. It also contains a considerable amount of military terminology - not to mention all the references to forgotten books which only collect dust in the libraries. Of course, this dictionary is alphabetized according to the Arabic alphabet.

    I am sorry, I don’t have all treasures next to me for the time being.:eek:
    :)
     
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