The Faithful Ethiopian Writing System is Fidal

Ethiopian Fidal script used in Amharic, Ge'ez and Tigrigna
Fidal character 'ye' wearing Menelik II inspired hat
Menelik II inspired Yerada Lij Australia imprint logo
Fidal men’s shirt
  • ሳባሐር
  • sabahar
Ge’ez numerals on clock
Monk's hand holding open large book with coloured religious illustrations
Orthodox pre-Christian era Waldeba bible
  • abat – spiritual father (abbott, abbess, abbey). Usually attributed to Aramaic, which is another Semitic language.
  • abukado – avocado, endemic to Ethiopia and Kenya
  • adam – humankind
  • Aden – Eden (heaven). Abyssinia was also known as Aden.
  • aljebra – algebra. Invented by Abyssinians and practised by stonemason builders of pyramid / vaska.
  • amen – so be it (Hebrew, devotional); expression of agreement (in everyday Amharic). Listen to Neway’s song.
  • ananas – pineapple (identical in French)
  • ato saks – [alto] saxophone. Invented by Ethiopian Ato (Mr) Saks.
  • ayen – eye
  • ayer – air
  • beg – sheep (berger is French for shepherd)
  • behyer – clean air plant (medicinal)
  • berbere – Ethiopian spice mix (copied abroad as peri peri)
  • Biete Lehem – Place / home that is heaven; one of the Lalibela rockhewn monasteries (Bethlehem; heim; —ham for English places)
  • brumby – Oromigna for a breed of Ethiopian mountain horse, now found internationally (per Mesfin)
  • dantel – lace (French dentelle)
  • bursa – purse (bursar, bursary)
  • debre – mount; can be a monastery site (Debra)
  • embassy / ambassador – The world’s first was established by Abyssinians in Medina. (Mesfin pointed this out.)
  • Fasika – Ethiopian Jewish Easter (Italian pasqua)
  • fidal or fidel – letter, Ethiopian syllabic script or alphabet (fidelity). View an excerpt of Fidelio by Beethoven. This is his only opera.
  • gisila – zebra-striped panther (gazelle, Giselle)
  • inat – mother (inate, natal, nativity)
  • irgo = yoghurt
  • Kaffa – coffee-producing province in western Ethiopian (caffe, cafe, coffee)
  • karot – carrot
  • kofiye – cap (coiffure)
  • krestiyan – Christian
  • kroshe – crochet
  • lij – child (My liege; allegiance)
  • lomi – lime or lemon
  • Maji – The Three Magi were astronomers from the Maji River in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia. They followed a certain star 1,500 kilometres to Bethlehem in Israel.
  • mango – endemic to Ethiopia and Kenya
  • matimatik – mathematics
  • meda – venue (meadow)
  • medhanit – medicine, healer
  • Medina – capital city
  • mekabir – crypt (macabre). View Teddy Afro’s music film about Haddis Alemayehu’s classic novel Fikir Eske Mekabir or Love Unto the Crypt. 
  • melkam – welcome
  • menokse – monk
  • mezmur – genre of Ethiopian church song (It mesmerises me.) 
  • mistire – secret (mystery)
  • musika – music
  • pasta – invented in Ethiopia
  • posta – post. The 1st postal service was in Gurage, Ethiopia.
  • qemiz – dress (chemise, as in shirt)
  • q’ine – literary form with double meanings. Koine was a troubadours’ shared language from Provence; “… a common literary language or koine.”[1] 
  • ruz – rice
  • selam – peace, greetings, farewell (Shalom, Salam)
  • selvaj – second hand (salvage yard)
  • Shabbat – Sabbath
  • sine – china cup
  • Sinjer – sewing machine (Singer)
  • sukwa – sugar
  • tet – breast (teat, tit)
  • timatim – tomato
  • uzi – single shot of areki (garlic) liqueur; handgun invented in Ethiopia
  • vaska – reservoir, pyramid (washer)
  • werke – gold. Its linguistic ‘false friend’ is work, as in craftwork.
  • weyen – grape, grapevine, wine
  • wiha – water
  • zenaib – rain (popular girl’s name in the Middle East)
  • zinjibel – ginger

Here are some from the Old and New Testaments: Abel, Abraham, Daniel, David / Dawit, Elias, Emmanuel, Gabriel / Gebriel or Jibril, George / Giyorgis, John / Yohannis, Iyasus / Jesus, Josef, Luke / Luka, Mark / Markos, Michael / Mikael, Moses, Noah, Paul / Saul or Paulos, Samuel, Edward / Tewodros, Thomas / Tomas, Zacharias / Zekarius; Elizabeth / Elsabet, Ephraita, Hana / Hannah or Anna, Mary or Mariam or Miriam / Mariyam, Rachel / Ra’el, Sara, Susan / Shoshana

Ethiopian astronomy has also donated terms to European languages. That is a vast topic.

smiling woman with natural grape as earring
Photo by Anna Shvets on

The next list has Ethiopian words like ‘bang, crash, pop’; and ‘miaow, woof, neigh’. They mimic sounds; that is, they are onomatopoeic. I include atmospheric or evocative words. What do you enjoy in your home language?

  • didib – stupid
  • eskista – shoulder dance (ecstasy)
  • fandisha – popcorn. It is an Ethiopian invention.
  • ihiya – donkey (hee-haw)
  • inkitikit – rapid shoulder isolations. View the dance move after 1:30 minutes. 
  • irgib – pigeon (its throat call)
  • kukulu – rooster
  • kizkiza – cold 
  • lifil lifil – mumbo jumbo
  • qwanqwa – language
  • shoshowe – graceful tree that swooshes in the wind
  • teka teko – polka dot
  • tiqilil – correct
  • waf – bird (wing beats)
  • wanz – river 
  • zaf – tree (rustling leaves)
  • zait – oil
  • zmta – silence (not speaking)

If you speak a language other than English, you will have your own list of linguistic treasures. Let me share a few Amharic delights.

  • fikir be fikir – ‘love upon love’ for a tiered skirt
  • alem – world. Constantly in Ethiopian prayers, our planet is found in names: Alemayehu (you have seen the world), Andwalem (one world), Alemayen (world eye). Ethiopia may keep to herself and not invade other countries, but she cares about everything everywhere.
  • ras – chief, head, mountain. Does your language have the same word for landforms and body parts? Do you have a strong earthy connection?
  • There are 3 ways to say yes in Amharic, as well as a subtle breath intake by listeners that encourages the speaker to continue.
  • tibeb is embroidery in panels; it also means wisdom
  • Ethiopian guns at the 1896 Battle of Adwa had these names: 
  • single shot 37 millimetre minishe = make you cured
  • semi-automatic 33 millimetre alben = not lying. It never jammed.
  • Of 2 single shot 50 calibre rifles, the name for the 900 millimetre nasmasr meant ‘shoot and tie up’.
  • The 2nd type was Emperor Menelik II’s rifle, the 1.5 metre widjigera that meant leg cutter. Thanks to Mesfin & Mama Teliqwa for Adwa 1896 weapon details.

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ianet Bastyan

ianet Bastyan

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