Frank and the sons of Ishmael

I suggested to Mark Liberman the other day that the word Frank turns up in western Arabic in the C8th. A provisional apology is due because the first reference I’ve found in a hitherto brief search is not until the first half of the C9th, when ʻAbd al-Malik b Habīb (display problems?) of Granada uses the word ifranǧ in an account of events in 714. Hereafter it seems to be used with a reasonable lack of clarity to refer to unfriendly heathens to the north of al-Andalus, but since many of these heathens were presumably related economically or militarily to the French throne we might not yet have arrived at the Arab use of Frank as a blanket term to cover European foreigners, or least not in a way that would have cheered the great but floored Professor Said. I’ll do some more reading and report back.
Meanwhile, here is a mention of the term in an amusing description of a military campaign in the same period that was written or, as the author implies, copied a couple of centuries later:

Said al-Rāzī, who had it from ʻAbd al-Malik b Habīb [died 852]: At the beginning of the year 94 [712/10/7-713/9/26] Mūsà [b. Nuṣayr] penetrated into the country of the Franks, through which he advanced until he arrived at a great desert and a flat country [traditionally near Narbonne in France], where there were [ruins] and was found a great statue on top of a column, on which had been engraved the following Arabic inscription: “Sons [of Ishmael!, if] you arrive here, turn and go back!” This frightened him and he said: “They wouldn’t have written this without a good reason.” He returned with his troops, retreating until he arrived in Cordoba, where he celebrated the feast of the rams that year. (Al-Ġassanī (C12th-13th). Riḥlat al-wazīr, quoted in Dolors Bramon, De quan érem o no musulmans.)
And this suggests that by the early 1600s the word frank had come to be used by the Arabs with much the same venom with which they and the European left now use the word American:

Franc, m. … Les peuples Orientaux appellent aujourd’huy Franques, toutes gens d’Ouest, à cause des grands efforts, faits d’armes, et victoires des François és entreprinses et voyages d’outre mer, dont la reputation comme la conqueste est demeurée au nom François. (Jean Nicot, Thresor de la Langue Francoyse (1606))
(A moan: ATILF (Analyse et Traitement Informatique de la Langue Française) has accumulated and created what look like some wonderful online French language resources. Unfortunately most of these are only available to other institutions, not citizens; this excludes me, since the only institution I am likely to enter in the next few decades will probably not have internet access. I just don’t get it: does the Republic want to promote French to the world or not? Go on, let me in, even if it’s just for Christmas!)

Because most of this site uses a fairly modest extended Latin alphabet, I’ve used charset=iso-8859-1 instead of utf-8 and assigned font family Gentium, Arial Unicode MS, Lucida Sans Unicode to the occasional quote containing romanised Arabic. Please tell me if this is stupid – I could do with a guru. For example, Gentium, although available for both PC and Mac, doesn’t kern properly and doesn’t work at all on-screen; similarly my Lucida still has a very limited character set. Should I just do everything in UTF-8 and go mad daily trying to remember the combinations for things like e with acute? (Other resources used: and

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  1. Thanks very much for that. I’m into the season of heavy drinking at the mo, so won’t begin to digest until the weekend, but I’ll get back to you on your query.

  2. Long term, the font family shouldn’t have much bearing on anything, as browsers get intelligent enough about searching the available characters in each of them. Mozilla and MSIE, for example, do this pretty intelligently now. (Because what you’re doing is working at the moment, I assume it’s the long term you’re worrying about.)
    Moving to UTF-8 is The Right Thing, because when you tell Windows machines to use ISO-8859-1 they actually use Code Page 1252, which is subtly incompatible with ISO-8859-1. (Cf; you can input the Euro sign, which isn’t in ISO-8859-1. Ditto directed quotation marks, em-dashes, en-dashes et al–in short, it’s a much better character set for the Roman script languages. Except that, in practical terms, it’s not, because when you do translate from it to Unicode, most programs are buggy and don’t check whether any of the input is in those 32 characters marked “control” in ISO-8859-1 and actually used in Windows-1252. Bad programmers.)
    Your issue seems to be the program you’re using to input stuff. If it’s Internet Explorer, _perhaps_ checking the “Always send URLs as UTF-8 (requires restart)” preference will work–that is, you’ll be able to input e-acute, Euro sign etc. normally and they’ll get to the server encoded as %A9%C3, %82%E2%0A%AC etc. as is correct for UTF-8. If you’re using the HTML escape codes at, be aware that you’re using something separate from UTF-8. Browsers, notably Netscape 4, supported the HTML escape codes before they properly supported UTF-8, but today which to use is much of a muchness.
    Give me a shout if the “Always send URLs as UTF-8” thing works; I use Windows machines rarely enough that it’ll be a while before I get to check.

  3. Read Robert Bartlett, The Making of Modern Europe: Conquest Colonisation and Cultural Change 950-1350 to understand the adoption of the term Frank first, as you say, by those attacked by the west, but eventually by the ‘westerners’ themselves (through the medium of the crusades). Incidentially the latin francum = freedom (the western notion of freedom to share one law, one religoin and title to ones land). So western notions of freedom are perhaps more about being free to be a westerner, than universal freedom.

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