‘Jouthour’: The Arabic word for roots has botanical and emotional meanings

The word has several uses, from algebra equations to associations with our connection to the land

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In his 1952 poem I Carry Your Heart With Me, American poet E E Cummings wrote: "Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide."

The use of the word root in his poem, and the context that follows, emphasises the definition of the term as the deep core of something.

This week’s Arabic word of the week, jouthour, is fascinating for its multifaceted meaning connected to ideas of essence, purity, steadfastness and the true meaning or being of something.

To put it simply, jouthour means roots. It’s a noun made up of the three Arabic letters, jeem, thal and rah. The origin of jouthour comes from the word jathara, a verb that means to extract or cut something out with its roots intact.

Jathara not only applies to plants and their roots but can be used in other instances. For example, delving into or discovering an issue or topic and pulling it apart from its roots. It’s also used in algebra – it is the action of finding the root of a number or an equation.

It’s interesting to note that the origin of the word jouthour here, is the action of separation or unearthing the root of something, while jouthour itself refers initially to plant roots, grounded and stationary in the earth.

In its botanical context, and perhaps its most common point of reference, jouthour are the roots of any plant or tree whose function is to anchor the plant while absorbing water and nutrients from the earth for replenishment and growth.

Jouthour is the plural for jathar, which means one single root. Since roots are formed in either a taproot system, with one single primary root with smaller offshoots, or a fibrous root system which has many small branching roots but no main primary stem, roots are referred to in their plural form. The singular form of the word can be used to reference a single offshoot or root.

From a linguistic perspective, jouthour refers to the root or origin of any word. Used in any other context it can mean the root of a source of emotion from joy to anger and frustration.

Jathree is a word derived from the same origin of the word jouthour and specifically refers to the origin of something. The Arabic phrase, taghyeer jathree, which loosely translates to original change, is used when describing the change of something from its very origin to its facade.

Jouthour can also be a very emotionally charged word that connects us to the land. In a certain context it means when a person takes root in the land. This means building a life, community and paving the way for a person to continue to live and thrive in a land or region for generations with no intention of ever leaving.

Updated: February 02, 2024, 6:02 PM