Apparently the label Coptic on my categories list is a bit misleading. Or so I realized when my friend Yasir said after looking at the category’s posts – “There’s nothing about Coptic Cairo here.” So I’ll try and make the reference less less cryptic.

Coptic simply means Egyptian. As John Swanson – my sort-of boss here and to date one of the most erudite people that I’ve met on all matters pertaining to Egypt and Hollywood – both words are derived from the same root. An old (Greco-Roman perhaps) spelling for Egypt is Aegyptos, and if the initial vowels are dropped, one is left with the word Gyptos, which made its way to this continent. Now those of us who’ve been in Cairo for a few months and have taken Arabic classes have seen that over here, g’s pronounced as in Egypt and giraffes and gypsum are often converted to the hard g  – gills and grottos and games for example – in the local dialect (Aameya). Even the Arabic letter jiim in classical Arabic is pronounced giim here. In that context the evolution of the word becomes easier to track. After losing the Ae at the beginning, Gypto evidently morphed into Chypto– or some equivalent (Pronounce Ch as K) and eventually voila! Coptic = Egyptian. (Meanwhile the Arabic word for Egypt itself has little resemblance to any of these words, it is Misr or Masr and I’ll write more on that some other time).

Nowadays, the word Coptic is most commonly associated with the Christians who are native to Egypt, members of the Coptic Church. And that’s the sense in which Yasir used the word. The Coptic Church is distinct from, and at least as old in tradition as, if not older, the Catholic Church. It seems to be more akin to the Orthodox churches in its practice. Last semester the University offered a tour of some Coptic churches and a museum, and John Swanson organized a tour to some ancient monasteries in Wadi Natrun (tk), which gave me a fascinating peek into a totally different world, one I knew virtually nothing about save for the Hosnany family in Durrell’s richer-than-cream Alexandria Quartet, where the lady of the house tells an Englishman after some cultural faux pas he made, “But we’re Christians my dear. Like you.”