Here’s something I’ve been wondering about. Anybody know Arabic historical linguistics?
Al-qaeda is Arabic for “the base, basis, foundation, military base”. Alkaid is the Arabic name for Eta Ursae Majoris, a star in the Big Dipper. It’s short for al-qaid al-banat an-nac, meaning “the leader of the daughters of the bier”, because the three stars of the Dipper’s handle were seen as mourning maidens, wailing at the bier of their father who had been murdered by Polaris.
So qaida is foundation and qaid is leader. Are these words true cognates? Does Al-Qaeda have its own star in the sky? The terrorist organisation has sure set a fair number of maidens a-mourning through its murders.
Update same evening: Dear Reader Bo explains that the two words do indeed share a root meaning “to sit down; to remain, stay”. Qaid can be translated as “companion; one with whom one sits together; keeper, guardian, supervisor”.
Update 8 October: Says Dear Reader Dilworth (who should know, being a professor of Arabic), “The star in the big bear constellation is called al-qaa’id in Arabic (I checked this on several Arabic astronomy sites) with a hamza in the middle (not an Ayn) which means that it is the active participle of the verb ‘to lead’, with the root qaaf waaw daal. Al-Qaeda is spelled with an Ayn in the middle (root qaaf, Ayn, daal) and it has the basic meaning mentioned: to sit. The two words are not only not cognate, they are not at all related.”