Is there a language, in which the word for "coffee" does not contain the sounds k/q and f/h/v, i.e. the word has a different root?

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    All sign languages, for a start. (Though it may have a related root: in Irish Sign Language, tea, cocoa, and coffee are the same gesture, using t, c, and f handshapes respectively.)
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 16:18
  • 1
    @TRiG In many sign languages the sign for "coffee" involves mouth gestures that imitate articulating k/q and f/h/v. An example from Norwegian Sign Language: minetegn.no/Tegnordbok-HTML/video_/kaffe.mp4 So we can say it's a loanword from the spoken language, just in the same way as English "coffee" is a loanword from Turkish.
    – michau
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 11:33

4 Answers 4


First of all I would like to say that these words are not cognates; they are loanwords.

The coffee plant is indigenous in the highlands of Ethiopia. It was transplanted to the Yemen in the 14th century (which is fairly recent), where the drink coffee became popular among Sufi circles, and was soon after exported to Istanbul, and hence to Europe. For a long time coffee was produced only in the Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

The “coffee” word comes from Arabic qahwa, originally the name for a sort of wine, but which the Yemeni coffee-drinkers transferred to their favourite tipple. It has been claimed, but never proved, that it has antecedents in one or the other of the languages of Ethiopia, but until proven otherwise, it is more likely that the Ethiopian names are borrowed from Arabic. Arabic qahwa was borrowed into Turkish as kahve, and from Turkish to Dutch koffie, French café etc.

The native Ethiopian word for “coffee” (the plant and the drink) is būn. In most Arabic dialects bunn is the berry and qahwa is the drink, but in the Yemen bunn is used both for the berry and the drink. The Dutch traders identified, by folk-etymology, Arabic bunn with Dutch boon “bean”, and it is for this reason that in English too we wrongly refer to “coffee beans”. Coffee is not made from beans but from the dried seeds of coffee berries.

There are languages that have invented new words for "coffee", but in virtually all languages in the world the principal word for coffee derives from one or the other of the mentioned Arabic words.

Here is an excellent scholarly discussion of the whole complex:


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    What's the difference between a cognate and a loanword?
    – Random832
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 6:14
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    Besides bun in the languages of the Horn of Africa, the notable exception is Armenian en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D5%BD%D5%B8%D6%82%D6%80%D5%B3. Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 8:00
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    @Random832. I really do not want to sound dismissive, but this is the sort of thing you could look up in a dictionary.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 8:36
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    @fdb My reaction was similar but I read now that everything written through the 18th century is considered Classical / Old because it was all written with the older orthography -- in theory a function of style not year. That is in line with my understanding too. Thus corresponding Old Armenian entries exist for almost all Armenian entries. Anyway, it does not matter for the OP, I attest that surč and derived words eg srčaran (café) are alive and well. Russian кофе competes in R Arm but it is obvious which is older and they are used in different contexts, and it is a pluricentric language. Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 9:43
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    @fdb Those words do have a common ancestor: qahwah, the original Arabic source of the borrowing. The common ancestor of cognate words doesn’t have to be in a common ancestor of their languages. It’s true that some authors do specifically exclude loanwords from their definition of “cognate” — but the reason one has to explicitly exclude them is exactly because otherwise, loanwords fully fit the definition. It’s like how “animal” in many contexts excludes “humans” — humans are a distinctive enough subcategory to be worth discussing separately; but still, we are very definitely a subcategory.
    – PLL
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 11:46
  • Armenian: սուրճ [surch] (Wiktionary)
  • English: java (Wiktionary)

    In the 17th century, the Dutch colonized the island of Java, which is now part of Indonesia. They planted lots of coffee there and began exporting it to the rest of the world. It was successful enough to have become a generic word for coffee.Quora

  • Isn't java considered as a synonym of coffee ? coffee clearly contains [k] and [f]. +1 for Armenian. Commented May 5, 2019 at 9:34
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    @StephaneRolland, that's what the OP has specifically asked for. Commented May 5, 2019 at 16:34

the word for "coffee"

What if the language doesn't have the word for coffee, and there are several words to express it? For example, in Somali, coffee can be called both bun and qaxwe.

does not contain the sounds k/q and f/h/v

In Navajo, the word for "coffee" doesn't contain k/q: ahwééh. Yet, it looks like a loanword.

the word has a different root

In Oromo it is called buna and very likely has a different root. But I don't know if it's the only word for "coffee" in this language.

Edit: take a look at this Reddit thread, there are quite a few more languages mentioned there: Amharic, Ojibwe, Cheyenne, Tibetan, South Sami, Kichwa, Lakota...

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    qaxwe seems similar to Arabic qahwa like in fdb's answer Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:28

The Oxford English Dictionary indexes a number of slang terms for 'coffee'. Two of them are clearly derived from coffee, so I'd consider them scratched for your purposes — Everton toffee (rhyming slang), joe (alliterative slang). But there are five others that probably pass muster: Java, mud, ninny-broth, syrup of soot, Turkey gruel.

  • Most of the words and phrases you've identified here, with the exception of "java" and "joe", appear to be humorous (and often historical) in nature and would never be used as a direct synonym for "coffee" nowadays. (The history is interesting, though: the last three phrases you listed all appear to have originated in 16th-century anti-coffee rhetoric!)
    – user14047
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 20:52

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