Dictionary says azimuth is from Arabic el-samut. I have doubts. Otherwise alchemy would have been achemy.

There is a Arabic/Hebrew word [عظم / עצם / EZM ] which means bone.

I am not familiar with the historical progression of the Arabic word. I understand the Hebrew word though.

[ עצם / עצמ = bone] has been used in Hebrew to connote intrinsic, basic, intensity property.


  • אלך בעצמי
    ELeKh B-EZM-I
    = I shall go {by myself / on my own}.

In Genesis 29, when Lavan told Jacob/Yaqov, the meaning of "intrinsic" may have not totally arrived at yet:

  • אך עצמי ובשרי אתה
    yet my-bones and-my-flesh you-are = furthermore you are my bones and my flesh

However by the time of Psalms [ עצם / EZM] was associated with the intrinsic self, base-value. Psalm 6:

  • ריפאני יי כי נביהלו עצמי ונפשי נביהלה מאד
    heal me LORD as my bones/self/core is-frightened and my breath/soul is frightened

By the time of early and medieval rabbinic era, [ עצם / EZM] had already taken the modern meaning self/intrinsic/basic. Which is also the time when Jewish and Arab scientists mingled during the scientific era of the Islamic empire.

There are not three questions but ONE. These are the suggestions of areas of research that would provide strong pro/cons to my question. These are not the questions but significant markers, courtesy of my incomplete research, from which you could follow-up on.

  • Where azimuth means the base angle component of the 3-D angular vector, are there evidence to show that the term actually originated from [ezm / عظم / עצם / bone] ?

  • What did medieval Arabic astronomy texts used to describe the base component of the 3-D angular vector?

  • Are there any evidence that azimuth could never have originated from [ezm / عظم / עצם / bone] ?

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    "Otherwise alchemy would have been achemy." And apricot would have been alpricot? – michael.hor257k Sep 4 '16 at 7:37
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    Of your three questions, only the third could remotely be interpreted as concerning English language and usage Even there it is such a specialised question that I am not sure ELU is the right place for it. – Spagirl Sep 4 '16 at 8:26
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    This site strives to provide well researched, intriguing questions. Take the site tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good questions. Specifically try to ask one question that is about English or etymology of English words. The second is definitely not and the others are doubtful. – Helmar Sep 4 '16 at 9:14
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    “Otherwise alchemy would have been achemy” is a false assumption. The /l/ in the Arabic definite article al- assimilates in Arabic to a following sun consonant, like the /s/ in samt (pl. sumūt), but not to a following moon consonant, like the /k/ in kīmiyāʾ. So even within Arabic, it’s as-sumūt but al-kīmiyāʾ. An etymology for azimuth based on something that means ‘directions’ seems more likely than one based on something that means ‘bone/self’. I don’t know Hebrew, but where would the -ut ending come from with /EZM/? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 4 '16 at 11:40
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    And then there’s the fact that (according to Wiktionary, at least), samt/sumūt is actually used in Arabic astrology to mean ‘azimuth’ (and also in the words for ‘zenith’ and ‘nadir’, of which the former is a rather severely mangled form of samt itself). Whether that’s also true of Mediaeval Arabic, I cannot say; but it would seem a bit far-fetched if Modern Arabic had started to use the word based only on the etymology of the European word. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 4 '16 at 11:49

Azimuth comes from the Spanish word acimut (end of 13th century, Alfonso X's reign), itself derived from the arabic al-sumût (or az-samt), meaning both «the path» and «horizon direction».

EDIT: Quote from Spanish wiktionary for "azimut":

Del árabe السموت (as-sumūt), plural de سمت (samt, "vértice"). Compárese el doblete cénit, zénit, así como el francés azimut, el inglés azimuth, el italiano azzimutto o el portugués azimute

The French CNTRL (Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales) refers to the same origin:

Emprunté à l'espagnol "acimut", fin xiiies. (Alfonse X, le Sage ds Cor.) lui-même de l'arabe sumût, pluriel de samt « le chemin » (Lok. no1818, FEW t. 19, p. 153).

  • You are providing an answer to which I specifically expressed my doubts in the question. – Blessed Geek Sep 4 '16 at 11:45
  • @BlessedGeek: I edited my answer to provide Spanish and French sources. – Graffito Sep 4 '16 at 15:41
  • The etymological dictionary by Rabbi Ernest Klein (Klein's Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Elsevier 1971) is a particularly good reference for Semitic roots of English words. It gives the origin of azimuth as: fr. Arab. as-sumut, pl. of as-samt, 'the way', fr. as-, assimilated form of al-, 'the', and samt, 'way'. (I omitted the diacritical marks) – njuffa Sep 9 '16 at 15:56

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