In an earlier thread (under heading CALIBER), I showed that you can’t trust today’s English dictionaries to reliably summarize what’s known about a word’s origin, with the worst aspect being a failure to convey uncertainty. The word HAZARD provides an example where some of the dictionaries do in fact convey uncertainty, but they mislead the reader another way:
Merriam-Webster @ M-W.com: Middle English, from Anglo-French hasard, from Old Spanish azar, from Arabic al-zahr the die. First Known Use in English: 14th century.
Concise OED @ OxfordDictionaries.com: Middle English: from Old French hasard, from Spanish azar, from Arabic az-zahr ‘chance, luck’, from Persian zār or Turkish zar ‘dice’.
Collins English @ Dictionary.com: C13: from Old French hasard, from Arabic az-zahr the die
Random House @ Dictionary.com: 1250–1300; ME hasard < OF, perh. < Ar al-zahr the die
Webster’s New World @ YourDictionary.com: ME < OFr hasard, game of dice, adventure < ? Ar az-zahr, for Egypt colloq. Ar al-zahr, dice
American Heritage @ YourDictionary.com: Middle English hasard, dice game, from Old French, possibly from Old Spanish azar, possibly from Arabic az-zahr, the gaming die : al-, the + zahr, gaming die.
The compilation book “Word Origins” by John Ayto (2005) adopts the standard story above and puts it on synthetic steroids: “The word hazard was introduced to English as the name for a game played with dice. It was borrowed from Old French hasard, which came via Spanish azar from Arabic azzahr, earlier al-zahr ‘luck, chance’.”
The French word spelled ‘’hasart’’ is attested circa 1150 meaning a game of dice—ref: CNRTL.fr. An attestation in French 1200, also spelled “hasart”, meant « un certain coup au jeu [= a game] de hasard » (same ref). The Spanish word ‘’azar’’, which had the same meaning as the French, is not attested until more than a century later, in 1283 (same ref). There is no attestation in French for a wordform for ‘’hasard’’ that displays an ancestry in the Spanish ‘’azar’’, or at least no early attestation. There’s a later wordform in Latin ‘’azardum’’, which looks to me like a blend of the Spanish and French—ref: DuCange. Therefore, the Spanish origin proposition for French hasard must be highly uncertain and hypothetical. In records in England, the proper name “Hugo Hasard” occurs in 1167, and a “Walteri Hassard” occurs in 1197—ref: UMich MED. Those are Norman names I believe. They are unconnected to the game of dice but they show that a word of the form Hasard/Hasart could readily be created in (Anglo-Norman) French without Spanish fatherhood. Another example is in William of Tyre writing in Latin in the 1180s. He writes about a castle or fortified town he variously calls “Hasard”, “Hasart” and “Hasarth” --ref (hyperlink at upperleft)—this castle was controlled by people who spoke French as their vernacular languge, as did William of Tyre himself.
The Arabic ‘’az-zār’’ or ‘’az-zahr’’ is unattested in Arabic until a report in the early 19th century by the French linguist Ellious Bocthor, who found it in Egyptian oral dialect meaning “the dice”. (The word is absent in the great Richardson’s Arabic-English Dictionary of 1852). Bocthor’s attestation is more than 700 years too late. Nearly 800 years too late. It’s a piece of flotsam picked up along the wide wide shores of Arabic, dialectical or standard, for the purpose of retrofitting it to Spanish ‘’azar’’. It comes with zero support from history beyond the fact that Spanish was taking in Arabic words in the 12th century.
In the centuries leading up to the 19th, Egyptian Arabic borrowed many words from Europe especially from Italian. Italian speakers dominated the seaborne commerce of the Turkish Ottoman empire in and around the Renaissance centuries; Italian was the “lingua franca” of the Mediterranean rim, and a great many Turkish and Arabic words are from Italian as a consequence. Ernest Weekley’s 1921 etymology dictionary in its entry for hazard says the 19th century Egyptian Arabic dialectical ‘’az-zahr’’ “is a word of doubtful authority which may have been borrowed from Spanish ‘’azar’’ or from Italian ‘’zara’’, “a game at dice called hazard"."
The American Heritage Dictionary quoted above says the European word is “possibly from Arabic az-zahr, the gaming die : al-, the + zahr, gaming die.” That statement permits an ordinary reader such as myself with no further knowledge of the situation to mistakenly infer that ‘’az-zahr’’ was a real attested word in Arabic in the 12th century. The Chambers Dictionary @ ChambersHarrap.co.uk, distinct from the other dictionaries, says English hazard is from French hasard and doesn’t attempt to summarize the word’s history back any farther than that. That’s the best policy, I argue.