From California, Julie Wei sends me "tidbits: curious words":
1. "Boko Haram" — the name of a radical Islamist group in Nigeria that is burning schools, preventing children from getting an education.
The name is indeed curious. According to the New York Times (March 26, page 1 and page 9, "Wielding Fire, Islamists Target Nigeria Schools"), in Hausa "Boko" means "book" and signifies "Western education", while "Haram" derives from Arab and means "forbidden", which we are familiar with as "harem", i.e., "forbidden quarters".
Other sources give more explicit and radical spins to the name:
- BBC "Western education is forbidden"
- Wikipedia states that the name in Hausa translates as "Western education is sacrilege", "a sin".
If the name really does mean something like "books are proscribed", that would seem to conflict with the well-known Islamic dictum about the "People of the Book" (Arabic هل الكتاب ′Ahl al-Kitāb; cf. Hebrew עם הספר, Am HaSefer), i.e., the Jews, the Sabians, and the Christians, i.e., peoples of the Abrahamic tradition. On the other hand, whereas kitāb is customarily translated in English as "book" and "book" is customarily rendered in Arabic (and languages heavily influenced by Arabic) as kitāb, the very fact that an Islamist group has outlawed "books" indicates that — at least for them — "book" certainly does not equate to kitāb.
But I think that something deeper may be going on here. Quoting Omniglot:
Since the beginning of the 17th century, Hausa has been written with a version of the Arabic script known as ajami. Most of the early writing in Hausa was Islamic poetry or on Islamic themes. Ajami is still used, mainly to write poetry, but also for at least one newpaper and some books. There is no standard spelling system for Hausa written with the Arabic script so there is some variation in spelling between different writers.
A version of Hausa written with the Latin alphabet and known as boko began to emerge during the 19th century. Until the 1950s ajami and boko were both used, though since then boko has been the main alphabet for most Hausa speakers.
Thus we see that boko is not so much an overt reference to Western books and Western learning, but more specifically the Latin alphabet, which has displaced the Arabic alphabet in Nigeria.
More details are given in Wikipedia:
Boko (or bookoo, from English "book") is a Latin alphabet devised by Europeans in the early 19th century for the Hausa language. It was developed and introduced in the early 20th century by the British (mostly) and French colonial authorities and used as the official script of the Hausa language. It was made the official alphabet in 1930. Since the 1950s boko has been the main alphabet for Hausa speakers. Arabic script (Ajami) is used now only in Islamic schools and in a big part of Islamic literature. In Nigeria Boko has been written in pan-Nigerian font since the 1980s.
This use of "book" to refer to writing reminds me of Norwegian Bokmål ("book language") and German Buchstabe ("letter [of the alphabet]"). Chinese shū 书 originally meant "to write", then later signified "letter (to be sent and received)", and now has come to mean primarily "book".
Julie's second offering:
2. Today, in a crowded Mexican restaurant, I saw a counter-girl preparing a delicious-looking burrito (beans, rice, etc. in an orange-colored wrapper). I asked "What is that burrito called?". She said: "A Peggy burrito." I searched for it in the menu, and found she meant "veggie burrito".
I don't really have anything much to add to this colorful expression, except to say that a web search turned up plenty of associations between "Peggy" and "burrito", so perhaps the counter-girl was auditorily influenced by one of them.
LATE NOTE: Just at the moment I was about to make this post, Julie sent the following note: "This restaurant has many kinds of burritos. The one she was making was both beautiful and scrumptious-looking, and I wanted the name, to be sure I got the right one."