Monday, February 16, 2009

Pakistan, Packing In Meaning

Summary: Pakistan has a capitol, but it also has capitals. Ha.

Being an American who knows only as much about certain areas of the world as he can glean from the newspaper, I make this assumption that things I don’t understand about the areas of the world where people have been living for an especially long amount of time all tend to result from the result of thousands of years of history that I don’t know about. In short, things are the way the are because of something that happened a long time ago and that I may well not know about.

Most of the time, this theory makes me right, but I was nonetheless surprised to read the name Pakistan is a relatively new word, formed in 1933 by Muslim nationalist Choudhary Rahmat Ali as a kinda-sorta acronym. The word comes from the names of the five Muslim homelands of Western India — the initial letters of Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, and Sindh, and the last three letters of Balochistan. The “i” between the “k” and the “s” was apparently inserted to make the name more easily pronounceable for Westerners like myself. I actually can’t say it quickly without inserting a slight vowel noise in there.

I can’t help but feel like Sindh and Balochistan got the shaft, what with their contribution being so close to the -istan suffix that shows up Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and probably a few others I’m forgetting. (That suffix, by the way, translates from Persian into English as “place of.” It goes back to a Proto Indo-European root that gives English its verb stand. It also provides the suffix appearing at the end of the names of such German cities such as Allstedt, Helmstedt, Kroppenstedt and others.)

Rahmat Ali later expanded on his coinage, saying that Pakistan actually came from the initial letters in Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Indus Valley, Sindh, Turkharistan, Afghanistan and the final letter of Balochistan. Again, even with this more expansive etymology, I feel like poor Balochistan still got screwed. But I also feel like Pakistab doesn’t make for a pleasant name for anyone’s nation. Considering that the -istan suffix comes from Persian, it works out nicely that the word pak in Persian means “pure.” Thus, someone in Iran could accurately translate the name of the county as “land of the pure.”

I say it’s good branding. Catchy, at least.


  1. Anonymous6:09 AM

    I hadn't considered the connection with stadt/stedt. I'm sure it's right, but I'm curious how you know.

  2. Shoot. Read it somewhere, but a quick search isn't bringing it up now. I'm sure I got the notion from somewhere, but the fact that I now can't find it is troubling.