Armenian Language Corner

How Do You Say “Parsley” in Armenian?

Some words have odd origins. Such is the case of parsley, which does not look like that, but it has a Greek origin. The word was petersilie in Middle English and came from Greek petroselinon (“rock” + “parsley”) via Latin, and took its actual form due to the influence of French peresil, which had the same origin.

Now, the Armenian for parsley has a different origin. But, first, what’s this Armenian word? Most people who base their knowledge of Armenian only on what they hear and not on what they read will promptly say maghdanos (մաղտանոս).

Unfortunately for them, they are utterly wrong. However, it is instructive to see where this Greek-looking word comes from.

It appears that parsley was introduced to the Near East after the expedition of Alexander of Macedon (Alexander the Great), when the Hellenistic civilization expanded during the next centuries. The Greek word makedonesi (μακεδονήσι “Macedonian, Macedonian herb”) entered Arabic as magdunis, with the meaning “parsley.” Old Arabic medicine treatises mention magdunis rumi (“Greek parsley”). From Arabic, the word probably entered the Armenian language as maghdanos (Eastern Armenian maghadanos մաղադանոս) and Turkish as maydanoz.

However, maghdanos has only remained in Western Armenian at the oral level. In the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries, when Modern Armenian was subjected to a cleanup of foreign words, thus went out maghdanos, probably because of its resemblance to the Turkish word. It was replaced by the actual Armenian word, azadkegh (ազատքեղ), which designates the wild parsley and is the only one used in writing. It is composed by the roots azad (ազատ “free”) and kegh (քեղ “a plant”), with the meaning of plant that grows freely or wildly. Indeed, azad is the Persian old root azat that has existed in the Armenian language since the fifth century A.D. and before.

Words not only have odd origins, but have odd ways to resemble each other. The meaning of azadkegh reminds us of petroselinon, the Greek ancestor of parsley that we mentioned before. Isn’t parsley that grows among the stones a plant that grows freely?