I’ve received an email from Corporal Timothy Reece, a linguist in the British Army. He has been looking at my list of English words derived from Arabic and says I’ve missed one – “the word ‘floozy’ meaning a loose woman, or a lady of the night if you will”.
He explains: “This stems from the British Army involvement in Egypt, where soldiers on leave would venture out in search of women. They would hold their money up in the air and say "fuloosi" [‘fuloos’ being the Arabic word for money] with the obvious implication. This of course was changed over time and women who would be paid for sex were known as floozies thereafter.”
I compiled the list of Arabic-to-English words a few years ago because I felt – and still do – that the contribution made by Arabic to our language is often overlooked, especially by dictionary compilers. A lot of the Arabic words came to us via Spanish or French and those languages tend to be credited as the source when derivations are given.
This seems to be the case with “floozy” too. My Oxford dictionary agrees that the word emerged in the 20th century but suggests it’s a variant of “flossy” or “fluffy”. I’m inclined to believe Corporal Reece on this one.
The Oxford dictionary does recognise "bint" as an Arabic word ("colloquial, usually derogatory"). It doesn't crop up much in English nowadays but I've heard ex-Army types use it when referring to women.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 July 2009