Volume 15, Number 5
October 21, 2008

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This Week

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Hakuna Matata


I just cannot decide what my initial words should be, so a simple greeting will have to do, I guess. This usually works in real life, no matter what I am trying to start. Whether it is a serious presentation or a friendly conversation, I use that trouble-free word, but have never thought before about the reasons of why this word is the one. After some research, I found out that there are different roots to "merhaba." Some sources say that its origin is from Persia while others claim it is Arabic.

A remarkable theory analyzes the word by dividing it into two parts - "mar" and "heba." The first part means "snake" in Persian, and the second means "wasting or destroying." According to this, the whole word says, "Let's kill the snake," which metaphorically means the cessation of hostilities. Formerly, hands, especially the right hand, were put in the air while saying "merhaba" to show that there was no hidden gun to shoot.
In Arabic, "mir" and "heba" is the way the word is divided, and the story is more interesting. When two travelers approached each other, they would stretch their bows, shoot their arrows far away and say "mir heba," meaning, "Let my arrow waste," showing goodwill. "Mir heba" became "merhaba" in the course of time.

Although the stories may differ, all agree on the actual meaning of "Merhaba," which is, "I do not hurt you. I do not have any bad intentions towards you."

Eastern culture is richer in explaining the origins of the salutation, with myths and stories. In English literature for example, "hello" was first used around the time of the invention of the telephone in 1876 and it has been credited to Thomas Edison. According to one source, when he first heard voice through a telephone, he expressed his surprise with a misspelled, "Hullo," which was a word used for surprise in those days. It doesn't seems very sentimental or genius, just a mistake! I think I prefer the story with the snakes.

Anyway, I do not want this writing, or any others, to be an academic paper, but rather an interesting opening. I also did the research because of my own curiosity, and am convinced that there are logical issues relative to magical ones in the word "merhaba." It used to seem to me a lovely word, and now it is more meaningful than before - or I am just in my "Heidi" mood?

Finally, I am welcome as you are! Merhaba!

Özlem Erdem (IE/IV)

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