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Pakistan – Podictionary Word of the Day


Although places like Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and Turkistan have had their names for maybe a thousand years and tend to be in the same general part of the world as Pakistan—that is, sort of north and west of India—Pakistan is a made-up name that hasn’t been around even 100 years.

The maker-upper of the name was a fellow named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali who is identified as “a student at Cambridge” in 1933 according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

But looking elsewhere I see that this Chaudhary Rahmat Ali was more than a Cambridge student. He’s reported to have been the founder of the Pakistan National Movement and I found his name confusingly similar to Chaudhary Muhammad Ali, one of Pakistan’s Prime Ministers.

It isn’t the same guy though.

The inventor of the name appears to have done so long before the actuality of an independent nation was a possibility.

He imagined that there should be an independent homeland for Muslims in India and he figured the Muslims who should hang together were from Punjab, the Afghani border region, Kashmir, and the Sindh region. So he just took the initials from those places and came up with PAKStan. The –stan fit well with the other countries in the neighborhood (it means “land of”) and as a bonus the word pak in Urdu meant “pure” so his imagined country’s name meant essentially “pure homeland.”

This etymology is backed up by other dictionaries including the Oxford English Dictionary, as well it should, since the researcher who seems to have done the definitive work on the etymology of Pakistan is a man named Robert Burchfield.

I don’t think he’s been mentioned before on podictionary and that’s a shame because it was Burchfield who brought us from that 100 year old first edition of the OED to the second edition.

He only died back in 2004.

As you know although earlier versions of the OED and other dictionaries did not include rude four letter words, current versions of all the good dictionaries do.

Burchfield was on the cutting edge of bringing academic rigor to the examination of such words.

But it was an uphill battle.

He found that his library research assistant refused to look up what she considered to be filthy words. He could hardly believe it, saying

“Against all expectations…a few members of staff had no stomach for the crudities of sexual and scatological vocabulary. I had assumed…that Homo lexicographicus was a chalcenterous species of mankind, that is, a person with bowels of brass.”

Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the forthcoming short format audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.

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