In my other blog I’ve occasionally showed pictures of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, a small tree whose compound leaves turn yellow, orange, and red in the fall. The English word sumac is spelled two ways, the other being sumach, and pronounced two ways, with the first consonant sounded either /s/ or /∫/. The Spanish name—and one with a single pronunciation*—for trees in the genus Rhus is zumaque, clearly a cognate of English sumac(h). Both the English word (via Old French) and the Spanish word trace back to the Arabic name for a tree in this family, summaq, but its roots are even older. Arabic had taken the word from Aramaic, where it meant ‘dark red,’ based on a Semitic root meaning ‘red,’ “por el color de sus semillas,” “for the color of its seeds,” as the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española explains.
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