Not in use so much these days, "gum arabic" can still be found for sale in small bottles. Is there a reason why it is called "gum arabic" and not "arabic gum"?

Gum Arabic - Gum arabic, also known as acacia gum, chaar gund, char goond, or meska, a natural gum made of hardened sap taken from two species of the acacia tree, is used primarily in the food industry as a stabilizer. It is edible and has E number E414. Gum arabic is a key ingredient in traditional lithography and is used in printing, paint production, glue, cosmetics and various industrial applications, including viscosity control in inks and in textile industries, although less expensive materials compete with it for many of these roles.

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    Sounds like it originated in a language that puts adjectives after the noun.
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:04
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    I suspect it's due to its origins in pharmacy, which used Latin for prescriptions for a long time (even in the Anglosphere) and continues to retain vestigial aspects of such (for example Alc. Denat. for denatured alcohol).
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:56
  • @Dan Sheppard This has the makings of a fine answer; can you offer some corroborative evidence? Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 19:36
  • Sadly not for the specific case of Gum Arabic, therefore only a comment which might provide a clue for someone with more resources than me! Look up the history of medical prescriptions, though (eg in Wikipedia) for an example of continued Latin use and an article on Gum Arabic for its use as a pharmacutical.
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 20:19
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    @bib Or skip the lights fandango, even. ;-) Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


As with many postfix adjectives in English--e.g. attorney general--we can blame French (or, at least, the Normans) for this one. The OED points to both Anglo-Norman (compare Middle French gomme arabique) and post-classical Latin (gummi Arabicum) roots. So, Dan is more or less correct that Latin is the ultimate source, but we imported the construction as early as the 13th century.

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    Also of note is that the Latin term (either gummi arabicum or gumma arabica) is still the form used in several other modern languages, more or less unmodified: Bulgarian гума арабика, Danish/Norwegian gummi arabikum, Swedish gummi arabicum, German Gummi arabikum, Hungarian gumiarábikum, etc.). Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 15:28
  • @JanusBahsJacquet +1 for interesting comment. But Bulgarian... looks Russian to me.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 17:19
  • @Luis I wouldn’t claim to able to consistently tell one from the other, either, but apparently in Russian it’s гуммиарабик (gummiarabik) rather than гума арабика (guma arabika). Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 17:23
  • @JanusBahsJacquet lol.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 17:25

I think this name is due to that of Gum Arabia is the first historical sourse of "arabinose" sugar derived from African Acacia trees. A similarity between spelling of "arabinose" and "arabia", its furthur finding in some arabian trees, and arabic language of African countries having Gum Arabia led to the developement of the mistake prononciation of this Arabinosic Gum.

  • Welcome to EL&U pal. Opinions should be posted as comments. As soon as you get enough reputation, you will be allowed to do that.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 23:00

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