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Are these adjectives interchangeable?

I always hear: 'An Arab man.' but never 'An Arabic man.' and I always hear 'Arabic coffee' but never hear 'Arab coffee.'

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

As adjectives, the New Oxford American Dictionary defines Arabic a related to the language or the literature, while Arab is the more generic term (“of or relating to Arabia and the people of Arabia”) and Arabian is a historical variant of Arab.

Some dictionaries (including WordNet) report a wider meaning of Arabic as being roughly synonymous with Arab and Arabian. In some established expressions, like “arabic coffee”, arabic is favoured. Note, however, that usage favours “arab cuisine”, for example!

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Thanks for that – nicholas ainsworth Mar 29 '11 at 7:53
I've been offered "arab coffee" more than once (though more often it's "Turkish coffee" ..."). None of these should be confused with arabica, which is a species of coffee bean that originated in the Arabian peninsula and Ethiopia. – Amanda Mar 29 '11 at 14:32
F'x: "arabic coffee" is not an established expression. Also, Arab and Arabic are always capitalized. – Jimi Oke Mar 29 '11 at 15:41
@Jimi: well, “arabic coffee” has more hits than “arab coffee”, and a Wikipedia page… maybe there is something more to this particular one – F'x Mar 29 '11 at 17:33
@F'x & @Jimi I would check the discussion page on that one, it's not so clear cut and most people are quick to point to Turkish coffee or Arabica beans rather than some distinct "Arabic Coffee" properly speaking. First, Wikipedia only has one source referring to "Arabic Coffee" and throughout that source it uses Arabic in a generic sense, extending it not only to coffee, but pastries (generally), tables (not the decor, just tables of Arabs), etc. – mfg Mar 30 '11 at 18:42

I would use "Arabic" of the language and literature, and "Arab" otherwise. I wouldn't use "Arabian" except perhaps referring to the the country "Saudi Arabia" - but I would more likely say "Saudi".

I would however use "Arabian" in set historical phrases like The Arabian Nights.

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These words are not interchangeable.

  • Arab: relates to the people, places and culture of the Arab world. Examples include: Arab cuisine, the Arab League, Arabs in the Diaspora, Arab influence in Western Music, etc.

  • Arabic: specifically relates to the written and spoken language of the Arab world. Examples: Arabic literature, Arabic influences in English, dialects of Arabic, etc.

  • Arabian: historic or literary in its relation to people or things of the Arab world. Examples: the Arabian nights, under the Arabian moonlight. A note on usage from NOAD:

    Arab is now generally used in reference to people; the use of Arabian in this sense is historical

    Current usage of the word, however, is found in these examples: Arabian Peninsula, Arabian Sea and Arabian [horse]. Also, the demonym for Saudi Arabia is either Saudi or Saudi Arabian, not Arabian.

I initially thought Arabic coffee did not exist. Coffee arabica or arabica coffee is a major commercial species grown in East Africa and Latin America (originated in Ethiopia and Yemen). Ironically, the Arab world is not a major producer of the commodity. Yemen is the only notable Arab nation that grows coffee (the arabica variety), but it is not a major producer. However, it seems Arabic coffee is a special exception to the rule. Credit goes to fellow user, Amanda, for enlightening me.

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There's such a thing as "Arabic coffee" but it refers to the style of preparation (using very fine grounds which settle at the bottom of the cup, much like Turkish coffee.) – Amanda Mar 29 '11 at 14:42
@Amanda: As you pointed out in your comment on F'x's answer, it's Arab coffee not Arabic coffee. Similarly, there is such a thing as Asian coffee (to refer to the various coffees of Asia) but no such thing as Asiatic coffee. – Jimi Oke Mar 29 '11 at 15:27
@Jimi Oke, the OP said s/he's heard 'Arabic coffee" but never "Arab coffee" -- I was responding to that. I've been offered both (though I've never heard of Asian coffee, except in the most generic sense: "I bought this in Taiwan so it is Asian coffee.") Wikipedia prefers 'Arabic coffee' secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Arabic_coffee – Amanda Mar 29 '11 at 16:03
@Amanda: Thanks for the link. Enlightening. – Jimi Oke Mar 29 '11 at 18:21
re: "Arab: relates to the people, places and culture of the Middle East (except Israel) and North Africa" There are many cultures in this area who would take exception to that categorisation. I know two Iranians for identify themselves as being Persian and Kurdish respectively. They definitely do not see themselves as Arab. – dave Mar 30 '11 at 5:24

Arabic pertains to the language. Arab is any person whose mother tongue is Arabic. "Arab" does not necessarily involve a relation to Arabia (the Arabian Peninsula). A person born and raised in Brazil to Moroccan parents would be an Arab if, due to those circumstances, his or her mother tongue is Arabic. Thus, Arabian is not a variant of Arab. The two words have distinct meanings. Arabian means things or persons directly related to Arabia, a well-defined geographical region. I am Syrian, and my mother tongue is Arabic, so I am an Arab. But I am not from the Arabian Peninsula, therefore I am not an Arabian person.

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Please supplement your answer with reliable source citations. We expect answers to be supported by independently verifiable facts. Thanks. – MετάEd Jun 23 '13 at 15:57

protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 18:21

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