Ashraf F. Hassan, Semantics of ḏakar (Abstract)

Semantics of ḏakarunṯāḫunṯā and ḫaṣiy in Arabic

Ashraf F. Hassan, Università di Napoli L’Orientale & Univesität Bayreuth

This paper intends to investigate the philological approach to the term ǧins (“sex”) and relating terms in Arabic: ḏakar, unṯā, ḫunṯā and ḫaṣiy (i.e. male, female, hermaphrodite and eunuch respectively).

First, I will explain the etymology of the word ǧins, entered in Arabic from the Greek γένος (probably through Syriac) in the 7th century, to be used in taxonomy. The earliest vocabularies and the uses in literature tend to give the word the sense of “kind, type, class, species”. It was actually confusing – and sometimes even synonymous – with another genuine Arabic lexeme naw‘, which bears the same meanings.

Then, and thanks to Arabic philologists and linguists, the term ǧins assumed more meanings by calque from Greek, such as “origin, set, group and gender (in grammar)”. The latter will develop later into “gender” in the meaning of “biological sex”, and recently (starting from the second half of the 19th century) into “sex” in general.

Afterwards, I will deal with the semantics of “sexual categories”: ḏakar (male, but also penis) and unṯā (female, but also testicle) as two poles of sexual dichotomy. In between these two poles, existed two intermediate categories, which display some ambiguity, i.e. ḫaṣiy (eunuch), a male person lacking one or more sexual organ (i.e. his ḏakar and/or unṯās); and ḫunṯā (hermaphrodite), a person who has the sexual organs of both a ḏakar and an unṯā.

On the one side, we have the ḏakar “male”, perfectly represented by the erected ḏakar “penis”: hard, strong, powerful, sharp, penetrating. On the other side, we have the counterpart, unṯā “female”: soft, weak, powerless, keen, penetrable. Thus, for instance, a sharp edge sword is sayf ḏakar and a blunt one is sayf anīṯ. That explains the use of the word unṯā for “testicle”, i.e. the soft part of the male sexual organs. However, there are degrees of masculinities: on the top comes the faḥl (virile man), the perfect sex, who has not only a ḏakar but also two unṯās (all functioning) and he is able to reproduce. This displays that the Arabic literature criteria of the perfect sex were: Organs completeness, Functionality and potency. Similarly, the sword, which is a key-symbol in classical Arabic culture, would be perfect if complies with such criteria. The paper will, also, shed some light on the semantic relation ḏakar (penis)-sword.

It is clear that the “penis” is very much connected with power: therefore, I will focus on how linguistically the masculinity and the femininity of those individuals who were missing this element, or who also had a feminine organ, like the eunuch and the hermaphrodite, was understood, trying to shed light on a hypothetical scale of power. Here is a schematic outline of the “sexual categories”:


Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Christof Rolker (7. August 2015). Ashraf F. Hassan, Semantics of ḏakar (Abstract). Männlich-weiblich-zwischen. Abgerufen am 21. Juli 2024 von

Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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