More words from my manuscript:
But we return to our investigation of words that the West has borrowed from Arabic. Several common items of Western furniture bear Arab names. The “mattress” that we sleep on, for example, was at first merely a matrah, a place where something is “thrown down.” (I suppose, then, that it is perfectly appropriate for us to “throw” ourselves on our beds.) And our “sofa,” a long, upholstered seat with raised arms at each end, is simply a softer, more comfortable version of a sulfa, a stone molding or ledge. An “Ottoman,” on the other hand, a long, upholstered seat that has neither back nor arms, recalls the name of the third caliph, Uthman. Actually, though, it refers to another individual of the same name. Uthman, or “Osman,” was also the name of the founder of the great Ottoman Turkish Empire, of whom we shall speak in a later chapter, and it was the Ottomans who favored the low “Ottoman” seat in their government offices. French and Italian diplomats in Istanbul liked it, too, and brought it back to Europe with them.
Finally, a grab bag of word derivations: Once in a while, a particularly splendid personage, or one who wishes to be thought of as someone particularly splendid, is called a “nabob.” (Richard Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Agnew, in a more negative vein, once referred to “the nittering nabobs of nihilism.”) The word nabob comes from the Arabic naib (nuwwab in the plural), meaning a governor of a province. (Governors were once regarded as splendid.)