This is a complete layman's question. Online etymology dictionary says about kaaba:

1734, Caaba, cube-shaped building in the Great Mosque of Mecca, containing the Black Stone, the most sacred site of Islam, from Arabic ka'bah "square house," from ka'b "cube."

The etymology of cube is traced to ancient Greek in the same dictionary:

1550s, from Middle French cube (13c.) and directly from Latin cubus, from Greek kybos "a six-sided die,"

I don't have any training in linguistics. But I know that Greek is an Indo-European language while Arabic is a semitic one and the similarity of the word for cube is striking. Is it just a coincidence, or did one language borrow from the other?

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    There's also some similarity between kebab and gyros ;-) Jun 8, 2016 at 13:45
  • There seem to be loanwords between Greek, Turkish, and Arabic, see e.g. forum.wordreference.com/threads/… Jun 8, 2016 at 13:54
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    @LubošMotl Those loan words seem to be the result of the Ottoman era. My question involves an exchange (if there is) before 7th century - long before the Turkic influence.
    – layman
    Jun 8, 2016 at 15:12
  • @layman Welcome to Linguistics SE!
    – Alenanno
    Nov 30, 2016 at 11:01

3 Answers 3


The etymology of Greek kubos is unknown, but it is thought to be a loanword. A word like dice is of a kind that's easily borrowed, just like the game itself -- compare e.g. chess and its similar-sounding equivalents in many languages. So it's plausible, though not provable, that there's a borrowing relationship between the Greek and Arabic words. That said, it's less likely that one language borrowed directly from the other than that they both borrowed the word from some other source: this looks like a Wanderwort.


The translation of the geometrical shape cube into Arabic is mukka'ab. The vast majority of Arabic words come from a three letter simple past tense verb. Mukka'ab comes from the verb [ka'aba] which means 'set heel'. Al-Ka'ba, the Muslims holy srine is derived from that verb to mean 'the heel' of the community or 'fulcrum' where the community gathers and councils meet to discus public matters. It was where the statues of the gods were kept until Muhammed ordered knocking them off on conquering Mecca. The word mukka'ab to mean cube came later due to the similarity of the shape and the holy shrine. Saying the opposite is like saying that the citrus fruit orange was named after the colour with the same name. Maybe the similarity between the Arabic and the Greek words is just a coincidence!

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    I find no evidence of this, and plenty of counter-evidence (eg the Hebrew cognate). Nov 10, 2019 at 3:37
  • @AdamBittlingmayer: what is "this"?
    – vectory
    Nov 11, 2019 at 23:34
  • @kyle: cp aurum, Fr or "gold"! Think I'm kidding? It is a wanderword, back to Akkadian at least; Sumerian "gold" reads KU3-SIG17 instead… orange is ultimately from Dravidian? Compare Tamil nārttaṅkāy, narantam + kāy, also Telugu nāraṅgamu, Malayalam nāraṅṅa, Kannada nāraṅgi? What do they say for gold? Tamil: taṅkam, po, kū, kūḻai, urai; the others look like suvarna (like satemized ku + ar). I wont say narttankay and tankam looked related, because I'm not comfortable with that language. You go ahead tell me they are not! [en.wiktionary.org/wiki/orange], [/gold]
    – vectory
    Nov 11, 2019 at 23:55
  • Semi-on-topic: fools gold forms cuboid crystals under certain conditions.
    – vectory
    Nov 12, 2019 at 0:27
  • If there is any semantic link to ark, Hebr. teva "box, …", consider kov- (in Slavic languages), as well as coffin, or G Koffer (uncertain, Mongol, Tartar cognates) and so on and so forth ... then one really has to wonder. See [en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ark]. Some topics here on SE come to mind, about thalasso, about the Epic of Atra-Hasis, and, since you mentioned heel, the one about generation and knee. Not questioned yet: Achiles' Heel.
    – vectory
    Nov 12, 2019 at 0:38

Yes there is, the cubes were used in ancient Greece at holly sites long before Arabic came to be - and Arabic is a medieval coiné. Not even a real language. It's a conglomerate like Persian and other Mixtures which somehow became 'languages' and are erroneously being treated as such.

Therefore Ancient Greek could not and would not need to borrow such an expression from a language which came out after VII C. AD, or 12 centuries after it became a 'dead language'. Only the opposite is and can be true.

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    It is true that Ancient Greek could not borrow from Arabic, but there's no immediate reason why Arabic could not have borrowed it from Greek (I'm not saying it did, but it's possible). Your comments on Arabic are nonsense. What is "a real language" supposed to be?
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 29, 2016 at 13:04
  • But it did. And that's not all; It also borrowed an unbelievable amount of medieval English too. To your question: "true language" means a genuine language, not a scrap of phrases from every language you ever come in contact with. Sprachbund is not a language. So this is where we come clear, finally, I believe. Nov 29, 2016 at 13:16
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    So you are claiming that Arabic is "a scrap of phrases from every language you ever come in contact with"? That is nonsense. It is true that today Arabic is better described as a family of languages than a language, and that MSA could be described as a Koine (which doesn't prevent it from being a real language). But since Ka'ba has been in use in Arabic for a long time, this is irrelevant to the matter under discussion.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 29, 2016 at 15:50
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    I see you have edited your answer to state what it did not state before, and so made half of my first comment pointless. It is polite to make it clear when you do that, either by commenting to that effect, or by noting in the answer that it has been edited.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 29, 2016 at 15:51
  • @ColinFine You are a liar. Twisting my words by attacking the "straw man" to make me look bad is a tactic of the lowest moral and education possible. May 24, 2020 at 0:14

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