Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Linguistics Behind the Wicket (LBW) #1: Shahid Afridi and Free Love Friday

In belated celebration of the breaking of Australia's 34-match unbeaten run in World Cup matches by Pakistan, I offer the first in what I plan to be a recurring series of cricket-related linguistic investigations. I'm dubbing this series LBW ("Linguistics Behind (the) Wicket").

Shahid Afridi after the 2011 World Cup Pakistani victory over Australia
Shahid Afridi during the Pakistani World Cup 2011 match with Australia

This first investigation is a study in onomastics, taking as its subject the name of the skipper of the Pakistan team: Shahid Afridi (Urdu: شاہد آفریدی). To find out the connection between Afridi and free, "love", and Friday, read on!

[A brief word about the sources of Hindi/Urdu words: alongside of the native Indo-Aryan vocabulary (inherited, ultimately, from a vernacular cousin of Sanskrit), both the Hindi and Urdu varieties of Hindi/Urdu employ a large number of Persian and Arabic words (as a result of the Mughal invasion of India).]

Shahid (Hindi: शहीद; Urdu: شاہد) is an Hindi/Urdu word of Perso-Arabic origins, meaning "martyr" (religious or political). It derives ultimately from an Arabic root شہد, which Platts[1] glosses as meaning "to give testimony". Not being a semiticist, I cannot offer any further interesting discussion.

It is rather the name Afridi (Hindi: आफ़्रीदी; Urdu: آفریدی) which is of more interest for me. Jokingly, I have sometimes referred to Afridi as "Afriti", since his aggressive cricketing (Afridi holds the record (37 deliveries) for fastest century in one-day cricket) and mercurial temperament is suggestive of an Arabian Afreet (an angry sort of djinn): Arabic ʻIfrīt عفريت, pl. ʻAfārīt عفاريت. [The origin of this word is rather opaque to me: Platts[1] derives it from an Arabic root عفر meaning "to roll in the dust"; the Wikipedia article suggests that it comes from عفرت (`afrt) meaning "the evil"; the translation of the Qur'anic passage, Sura An-Naml (27:39-40) seems gloss it as "strong one". Maybe semiticists could enlighten me here?]

However, Āfrīdī, in fact, has no connection with Arabic "Afreet". Rather, it is a word of Iranian origin, which, being the name of a certain Pathan tribe, is thus presumably indicative of Shahid Afridi's ancestral origins.
afridi soldiers
Some afridis in the Khyber Rifles

In terms of its etymology, the word āfrīdī can be derived from the Persian word آفريده āfrīda, which means "creature" (noun) or "created" (adjective). (The āfrīdīs are thus perhaps "the created people".)

Āfrīda itself can be derived as the past/perfect participial form of the Avestan root frī- "love" combined with the prefix ā- (theoretically contributing a sense of "near, towards", but sometimes resulting in idiosyncratic meanings). Avestan āfrīda would corresponds to Sanskrit āprīta, both meaning "gladdened, joyous" etc.

The semantic change from Avestan "gladdened, joyous" to Persian "created" is intriguing. The earlier meaning of "joy" still seems to be present in Persian (and Hindi/Urdu) āfrīn/āfirīn, which can be used to mean "bravo! well done!" (though it too can have the "create" sense, at least in the compound jahān-āfirīn "creator of the world").

The root underlying both Sanskrit āprīta and Avestan āfrīda is Proto-Indo-Iranian *prī-, which itself can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root *prī- whose most basic sense is "to love".

The PIE root *prī- (see Watkins[2]) is also the source of English free (from Old English frēo, derived from the verb frēon "to love, to set free"), friend (from Old English frēond "friend, lover"), and Friday (from Old English Frīgedæge "Frigg's day", where Frigg, the name of the Scandinavian goddess of love, Odin's wife, derives from Proto-Germanic *frijjō "beloved, wife"); as well as Old English frioðu "peace", which sadly has no direct reflexes in modern English.

In fact, PIE *prī- underlies not only the Persian tribal name Afridi, but also a variety of Germanic-derived names (see Watkins[2]), including:
  1. Siegfried, from Old High German Sigi-frith "victorious peace"
  2. Godfrey, from Old High German Goda-frid "peace of god"
  3. Frederick, from French Frédéric, itself a borrowing of Old High German Fridu-rīh "peaceful ruler"
  4. Geoffrey, from Old French Geoffroi from mediaeval Latin Gaufridus, itself a borrowing from Germanic *Gawja-frithu- "(having a) peaceful region"
Thus perhaps Geoffrey Boycott can mention his "prī-" connection with Shahid Afridi if he ever needs some filler material when commentating a Pakistan match...

So, this concludes the first LBW. I'm open to suggestions for other cricketers or cricket terminology to etymologise for future episodes.

[1]Platts, John T. 1884. A dictionary of Urdū, classical Hindī, and English. London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1884. (Reprinted, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2000.) [online]
[2]Watkins, Calvert. 2000. The American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European roots. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edn.
[3]McGregor, R.S. 1993. The Oxford Hindi-English dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Indian edition: New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.)


  1. “I put it to you,” said Mr. Hankin, “whether I was l.b.w. or not.”

    “Of course not,” said Mr. Brotherhood. “Nobody ever is. I have attended cricket matches now for sixty years, for sixty years, my dear sir, and that goes back to a time before you were born or thought of, and I've never yet known anybody to be really out l.b.w. — according to himself, that is.” He chuckled again.

          —Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise (1933)

    ObPedantic: The OED gives as the last quotation for water frith 'pond protected from fishing' as 1584, technically within the Modern English period.

  2. Thanks, John. I didn't actually check the OED - as I should have. Didn't know about water frith.

    re: lbws - the quote still holds true to a certain extent. Though now they run computer simulations to try to calculate whether the ball would have hit the wicket.

  3. The root "pri-" seems also to be in the Russian words "приятель" (priyatel') - acquaintance, friend.

  4. This lengthy post with its connection to Pakistani cricket reminded me of something that surprised me when last I saw them play. My father and I went to watch one day of a Test match between NZ and Pakistan. I was hoping to see if I could hear anything interesting said in Urdu by the players, but the conversations were minimal and functional - "come in", "move out", "left", "right", "well done", etc. What really surprised me was that, while the ordinary on field conversation was in Urdu, whenever a batsman skied the ball, all eleven Pakistanis shouted as one "catch it!". To revert to a second language instinctively in such a situation struck me as as very interesting.

  5. @maxqnz: The Indian and Pakistani teams both seem to use a lot of both English and Hindi/Urdu.

    I suppose it's not really surprising given that (a) there's lots of English/Hindi-Urdu code-switching and code-mixing which goes on in South Asia anyway and (b) cricket obviously has certain Anglophone associations AND at times these teams have Anglophone coachs/managers. I can certainly imagine things like "catch it!" being ingrained in players through use by English-speaking managers.

    But, that said, I feel like I've heard the Indian team members shouting "pakkar" before rather than "catch it".

    [On code-mixing: Kamran Akmal as wicketkeeper uses a lot of mixed English/Urdu in his delightful patter, e.g. sābās, sābās, sābās, come on boys, come on lads.]

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