• zarf •
zahrf • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A metal tea glass holder, usually with a handle, used in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to insulate the hand from the heat where tea is drunk in a glass. 2. A paper sleeve around a paper coffee cup to insulate the hand from the heat of the coffee.
Notes: Teaching Russian for 38 years, I collected a few of the Russian versions in the first sense. We call them podstakanniki, using the Russian term for them. The second sense really hasn't caught on in English. In most English-speaking areas where the second sense of today's word is popular, it will be called a "coffee cup sleeve" until zarf catches on. (Let's help it along.) The plural of this word is either zarfs or zarves.
In Play: The center of the semantics of zarf in the East and West is something that insulates the fingers from the heat of hot tea or coffee: "When in Russia, Martha was impressed with the decorative zarfs she saw there and brought several home as gifts." The referents of the second sense of today's word are used millions of times every day in the US: "Llewellyn had to burn his fingers on a paper cup filled with hot coffee before he learned the purpose of zarfs."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Arabic zarf "container, envelope, circumstance". This word is used in Turkish, Azerbaijani, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, Urdu, and Persian (Farsi). In Russian, the first sense of this word is expressed by podstakannik, made up of pod "under, beneath" + stakan "glass" + -ik a noun suffix. The history of zarf in Arabic could not be found in any book or website written in any languages that I am familiar with. (Let's all tip our hats to newcomer Bill Bucceri, who submitted today's new Good Word via the contact page.)
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