• afreet •
ê-freet • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A powerful jinni or demon, an evil spirit in Arabian and Muslim mythology.
Notes: The British seem to prefer the spelling afrit, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the grandfather of all English dictionaries. Since the meaning is so narrow and foreign, we have no derivational relatives. According to the Collins Dictionary, the use of this word has dropped dramatically since the 18th century.
In Play: I can think of one very good use of this word off the top of my head: "Isil consists of an army of ghouls and afreets come to life." Here is another just beneath the surface of my mind: "Bashar al-Assad, who targets bombing schools and hospitals as he carries on his war against his own people, is an afreet incarnate."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes directly from Arabic 'ifrit, borrowed from Middle Persian afrid "created" from afridan "to bless, create". Afridan comes from Old Iranian afri- "to bless" (attested by Avestan afri-) : a- "to, towards, hither" + fri- "to rejoice, please". Afreets were probably so called because they were perceived to be blessed creatures, creations of God with divine powers. Since Persian is a Proto-Indo-European and not a Semitic language, this word probably goes back to the PIE word pri- "to love, set free", which came to be friend in English. This makes it a remarkable example of how far the semantics of a PIE word can diverge given sufficient time. By the way, ghoul was also borrowed from Arabic ghul, an evil spirit who robs graves and feeds on corpses. (We would like to wish Sue Gold of Westtown School no afreets, but send to her our sincere gratitude for today's oddly appropriately Good Word.)
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