• hegira •
he-ji-rê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, common & proper
Meaning: 1. A mass journey to escape danger or persecution. 2. (Capitalized) Muhammad's flight from the merchants of Mecca to Medina in 622, which marked the consolidation of the first Muslim community and the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Notes: Starting out referring to an event specific to Islam, this word's meaning seems to have expanded to a general exodus anywhere to avoid persecution. Although first spotted in print in 1590, it has not been Anglicized at all, so remains a lexical orphan.
In Play: At the end of the 20th century we had a hegira of the Hmong people from Laos, first to refugee camps in Thailand, then on to the US. The hegira of millions of Syrians to Europe and other Middle Eastern nations is still ongoing in 2016.
Word History: This word is a Western version of Arabic hijra "emigration, flight", from hajara "to depart". The underlying root is hjr "to depart". As we have seen already in other Arabic borrowings, this language not only has prefixes and suffixes, but vocalic infixes. All Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Berber) may change the meaning of a word by inserting a different set of vowels between the consonants. For example, the imperative plural of Hebrew hillel "he praised" is hallalu, as in hallalu-yah "praise to God", which English borrowed as hallelujah. (Let's all now thank Sue Gold of Westtown School for recommending today's golden Good Word.)
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