Zarf: A Forgotten Word

Introducing… the Zarf?

By Alexandra Ley

Do you all remember Samuel Clements’ book Frindle? Well, if you don’t, or if you never happened to read this elementary school classic, the basic premise is this: a fifth-grader decides to make waves by changing a label set in stone. He and his classmates go into a store one-by-one and ask the store manager for a “frindle,” their new name for a standard ballpoint pen. Soon enough, the entire town, and later the entire nation, is using the word in daily conversation, and the word eventually ends up in the dictionary.

My senior year of high school, I thought my English teacher was trying to pull the same type of stunt on us. She liked to share fun facts or words with us before class. One day she thought she would share one we could actually use in daily conversation. Being high school seniors within walking distance of a Starbucks, she thought we’d be interested to know the origin and use of the word “zarf.”

A “zarf” is the holder put around a cup of a hot beverage to protect the holders’ fingers. As in, that cute little piece of cardboard you grab at Liz’s Place or Starbucks and have probably stumbled over the name.

My English class didn’t buy it either. But it turns out that zarfs have a long history in the coffee-drinking world. In 14th-century Turkey, they were usually made of metal or porcelain, and heavily ornamented, since they were highly visible. The word “zarf” comes from the Arabic word for “vessel,” which also spawned the Arabic word for “saucer.” Strangely and sadly enough, the Merriam-Webster dictionary does not include this word.

Now that you have a new vocabulary word, I challenge you to use it as much as possible in everyday conversation. Remind your friends to grab you one at Starbucks. Or if there are not any, ask the barista where they are. You will be assisting the reestablishment of a forgotten word. If you do not feel like assisting in a crusade today, it will make you feel extra-intelligent for a brief moment when you know a word that no one else does.

If nothing else, it’s just really fun to say.

Alexandra is a sophomore at Barnard she is also contributing editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Photo courtesy of Recycle This.


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