Does the origin of the English word fellow trace any origin or relation to the Arabic fellah? Not only do they sound similar but I also thought it might because, even though wiktionary doesn't link it, both words seem to denote some aspect of parity or companionship.

  • 7
    "She's dressed in yellah, she says "Hellah Come sit next to me you fine fellah ."
    – Mitch
    Oct 31, 2016 at 20:58
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    What research have you done to try to answer this yourself? Did you check an etymological dictionary rather than only wiktionary? Nov 1, 2016 at 0:16
  • 6
    From reading some of the answers, you may wish to look up "false cognate" - a pair of words in two languages which seem like they should be related, but which actually aren't.
    – Soron
    Nov 1, 2016 at 1:18

3 Answers 3



From Etymonline:

fellah (n.) "Egyptian peasant," 1743, from Arabic fallah "plowman," from falaha "to plow, till (the soil)."


fellow (n.) "companion, comrade," c. 1200, from Old English feolaga "partner, one who shares with another," from Old Norse felagi, from fe "money" (see fee) + lag, from a verbal base denoting "lay" (see lay (v.)). The root sense is of fellow is "one who puts down money with another in a joint venture."

"Plow man" and "joint investor" are different enough that they aren't related linguistically.

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    I must say as an Arabic speaker I thought you were on to something here until I actually read what "Fellah" meant in arabic, it's pronounced completely different to what you think, the pronunciation is more like : FAL'LAAH
    – Tkingovr
    Nov 2, 2016 at 9:35

The definitive criterion for determining that a word is derived from another is not similarity, but the presence of systematic sound changes. Are there more examples of words that have the characteristics of fellah that would result in words with the characteristics of fellow? For example, are there more Arabic words ending in -ah that would result in English words ending in -ow?

And there's another issue: how could English have borrowed this word from Arabic? Fellow is attested as far back as Old English feolaga; were the Anglo-Saxons in contact with Arabic speakers often enough for them to have adopted such a basic word from the Arabic language?

Unless you can answer these questions satisfactorily, any etymologist will tell you that the answer is no.

  • There may have been some commercial contact, given that the 8th century Offa of Mercia (and the dyke) minted coins with an attempt at Arabic writing: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/…
    – Henry
    Nov 1, 2016 at 14:26

As a speaker of Arabic myself (North Africa), I can tell you these don't have the same definition.

In English, fellow means partner or collaborate and it is used in a neutral or positive way.

However, in Arabic, fellah means peasant and is often used as an insult (like the word peasant itself in today's English) for poor or uneducated people. It has a neutral or negative meaning.

Both words are old, with different connotations and from different linguistic origins. There's no real chance they're related. They just sound similar.

It's just like draw in English and draps (which means sheets) in French. Same pronunciation, different meaning and origin.

  • Still an English learner, feel free to correct my grammar.
    – Carlos2W
    Oct 31, 2016 at 20:44
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    The connotations of a word can change quite fast. If a word has been adopted into another language, in addition to any limited meaning at the time of adoption, there's plenty of scope for divergence. I'm not saying you're wrong (in fact I agree with your conclusion), just the the difference in meaning is weak evidence.
    – Chris H
    Nov 1, 2016 at 8:52

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