Daffodils and turbans

Though most closely associated now with the Netherlands, tulips hail from modern-day Turkey. Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Holy Roman Empire's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1500s, noticed the striking flowers while on a trip to Istanbul. The Turks called them lalé, but Busbecq's interpreter mistakenly gave him the term dulban or tülbend (turban), which was further corrupted to tulip. The ambassador sent some bulbs back to a gardener friend in Vienna, where they generated a stir that eventually blossomed into "tulipomania."

Sport of sheikhs

Long before blue grass and white fences came on the scene, horses ran for the roses in the Arabian desert. Horse breeding probably started in Central Asia, perhaps as early as 4500 b.c., but those sturdy beasts were built mainly for war and heavy labor, not speed. Arabian horses, by contrast, were useful in raids largely because of their blazing quickness. This also made them a lot more fun to play with. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when European princes wanted to rev up the local ponies, they purchased stallions in Islamic Turkey and Arabia. All Thoroughbreds today can trace pedigrees back to three stallions imported to Britain between 1690 and 1730: Godolphin Arabian, Byerly Turk, and Darley Arabian 2. No wonder the world's richest race is run in Dubai.

Middle Eastern menu

One needn't be a falafel fan to partake of quintessentially Middle Eastern food. The names for all of these delicacies come from Arabic: apricot, artichoke, banana, citrus, coffee, ginger, lemon, orange, sherbet, sorbet, and sugar. Other English words with Arabic roots include alcove, algebra, almanac, caravan, cipher, magazine, monsoon, nadir, sheriff, sofa, talisman, ...

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