• purdah •
pêr-dê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The Muslim and Hindu practice of secluding women from men or strangers, inside by a curtain, outside by clothing that completely covers them, i.e. burqas. 2. The curtain used to achieve such seclusion. 3. Societal secrecy or seclusion.
Notes: The difference between seclusion and purdah is that purdah connotes a religiously maintained seclusion. This word is a true lexical orphan—no derivational relatives. It is spelled pretty much as it is pronounced, so no pronunciation problems.
In Play: The usual use of this word is connected with Muslim or Hindi women and their world: "The idea of purdah originated in Persian society, which secluded women to honor them, not to humiliate them." The extended use is more common in the UK than the US: "The committee's investigation into the matter was carried out in complete purdah."
Word History: This word was captured from Urdu, pardah "veil", borrowed from Persian parda "veil". Parda is all that is left of Old Persian paridaka-, from pari-da- "to place over", comprising pari "around, over" + da- "to place, put". Old Persian inherited pari- from PIE per "forward, through, around, near", which turned up in English as for, forth, first, and far. Da- came from PIE dhe-/dho- "put, place, set", the same origin as for do, doom, and the suffix -dom, as in kingdom, the place of the king. (Today's word comes from a new Agoran, Jan Linders of the Netherlands, a friend of Rob Towart, a prolific contributor of Good Words.)
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