The word for heart in Arabic is قلب / qalb, which comes from the root ق/ل/ب / q/l/b associated with the idea of turning over or flipping. The reason that heart comes from this root and meaning is because metaphorically speaking our hearts are in a constant state of turning over, whether it be our emotions or opinions or making decisions. Rather than describing our hearts as physical organs with the purpose of pumping blood throughout our bodies, Arabs rather used the poetic or emotional qualities to describe our hearts.
Most non Arabs know the most common Arabic word for love حب / hob only once it was used to refer to someone specific, turning it into the word حبيب / habib meaning darling. And moreover when the possessive suffix ي / i, meaning ‘my’ is attached to form the word habibi, my darling. What most people don’t know is that the root of the word حب / hob is ح/ب/ب and an entirely different word formed from this same root, which looks identical to love is حب but pronounced hab, literally meaning seed. The reason the two are related is because they can both be defined as: that which has the potential to grow into something beautiful.
Any definition of Arab on the Internet will say something along the lines of, a group of Semitic people living in western Asia originally from the Arabian Peninsula who identify with the Arabic culture and who speak Arabic. But what of the actual word عرب / ‘arab?
There are many accounts of the etymology of the word ranging from being a derivation of Ya’rub, known to be the father of Arabs and who was supposedly the first person to speak Arabic in ancient Yemen, to a derivation of Gharab meaning west, supposedly what the Mesopotamians called the Bedouins who lived west of Mesopotamia.
A common misconception is that Arab means nomad or nomadic, which would fit the description of the early Arabs, the Bedouins, because to be nomadic is to move around or to cross over lands, which comes from the root ع/ب/ر / ‘/b/r, meaning to cross over both in Arabic and Hebrew. This root in Arabic was used to create the word ‘abri, Hebrew man, literally meaning ‘the one who crossed over’, referring to Abraham’s crossing of the Euphrates river.
When defining Arab linguistically, the mistake is made because the same three letters are used for the root of ‘arab, but for the difference in placement of the letters ‘r’ and ‘b’.
If we look at the root of ‘arab, which not surprisingly, is ع/ر/ب / ‘/r/b, we can, from this, derive a different set of words and meanings. A detailed search into any Arabic dictionary will reveal that most meanings of words from this root have something to do with speaking or using one’s tongue correctly. Take for example the word عربا / ‘araban, which means the ability to speak after a period of having a speech impediment or paralysis, or the word إعراب / i’raab, which has a literal meaning and a general one. Literally it refers to the linguistic term ‘declension’ in the Arabic language and how vowels at the end of each word will change depending on where that word is placed in a sentence, something that has to be vocalized correctly when reading out loud. The general or metaphorical definition refers to a particularly clear and correct mode of speech. This is not surprising when you know that when the Bedouins comprehend someone’s speech they refer to them as عرب / ‘arab and to those they don’t comprehend they refer to as عجم / ‘ajam.
The Arabic language developed through a predominantly oral and poetic tradition, giving rise to a culture rich in poetry and storytelling prior to the emergence of Islam.
For this reason and for the many similar definitions of the mentioned words, which derive from the same root, I would humbly, having studied the Arabic language for most of my adult life, define the word ‘arab linguistically as, ‘the one who speaks with a clear tongue.’