Word origin: Hazard: Risky business

Word origin: HAZARD Risky business

Merchants in the Holy Land in the 13th Century would have been familiar with al-zahr. They were the dice used in a number of high-risk gambling games that were popular in the region’s medinas. The risk came from the large element of chance inherent in the games and also from the high probability of falling victim to a cheat or thief.

The word al-zahr worked its way through North Africa and Spain, its meaning subtly changing as it went. By the time it arrived in France, it had become hasart and referred to any game of chance. It then evolved further, to mean chances and risks in gambling and, eventually, risks more generally. Finally, over two centuries from its origin in the streets of Damascus, the word hazard started to be used in English in the way we know it today.

“Wherever time passes there is hazard. You may die before you turn the next page.”
John Fowles


Posted in Etymology