The Etymology of Hausa boko

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The Hausa term boko, used in the name Boko Haram, is commonly asserted, by journalists and political commentators as well as by academic linguists, to be derived from the English word “book”. This turns out to be false. Boko is not an English loanword. A careful analysis of Hausa phonology and morphology shows clearly that boko could not have come from English “book”. Rather, boko is an indigenous Hausa word originally connoting sham, fraud, deceit, or lack of authenticity. When the British colonial government imposed secular schools in northern Nigeria at the beginning of the 20th century, boko was applied in a pejorative sense to this new system. By semantic extension, boko came to acquire its current meaning of Hausa written in Roman script and Western education in general.



Etymology, Hausa, Linguistics, Boko Haram


Newman, Paul. 2013. The etymology of Hausa boko. Mega-Chad Miscellaneous Publications, pp. 1-13.


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