It is easy to go astray while looking up words in a dictionary, or it is for me, at any rate. This is partly why reading very advanced texts (or texts on very unfamiliar topics) takes me a while. No matter how hard I try to focus on the word I actually need to look up, I will usually end up going “Ooh” and “Ah!” over other useful, funny or peculiar words and/or roots. I have tried to sit down and browse random pages when not looking up words just to see if I will stumble across something interesting, but it just does not work that way.
These peculiar words, however, almost always turn out to be quite rare. Some of them have a very specific meaning and are found only in a certain religious context, or they are of the kind that is only found in the Koran, or perhaps they just happened to occur, merely by chance, in some corpus used by the author. Not so with today’s word.
عدو الشمس (ʿadū aš-šams): albino. Literally enemy of the sun.For the longest time, I struggled to make sense of this. Should it not be the other way around, that the sun is the enemy of the albino? In time, however, I have come to realise that enmity is probably reciprocal by nature. And if not, well, nobody ever claimed that Arabic makes a lot of sense.
Now, I like to run every featured word through Google and see what turns up. This time, it turns out that the expression is in daily use. The search gave more than 8 million hits, and I’m not talking about those useless hits I usually get when I enter a couple of Arabic words. No, it seems to be the lay term for a person (or other organism) with albinism. Arabic Wikipedia tells me that the term mahaq (مهق) is used for albinism, and ʾamhaq/mahqāʾ for a man or woman (or male/female animal) with albinism. In my first year of Arabic, I was taught that this pattern is used for colours and defects. Perhaps ʿadū aš-šams isn’t a bad choice after all.
Bonus: I came across this, er, enchanting short story entitled ʿAdū aš-šams. Charming.