Word of the Week (201): ZAKAT (probability 11202), by David Sutton

ZAKAT is the practice of charitable giving by which better off followers of Islam support the poor and dispossessed. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and takes the form of a percentage tax imposed on certain kinds of wealth.

We looked at various old English taxes and duties in a previous issue (Word of the Week 47), but here are some from other parts of the world.

CORVEE is a word of French origin for labour exacted in lieu of taxes by public authorities especially for highway construction or repair. I quite like the idea of filling in some of the potholes on our local roads rather than paying income tax, but I suppose the novelty would soon pall.

GABELLE is another word of French origin for a tax on salt. This has always been a particularly unpopular tax for some reason: the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, who was executed in the French Revolution, had a day job as a GABELLER or collector of gabelle, which perhaps explains why no one at the time was that bothered when his head rolled. (Actually that's not quite true: Joseph-Louis Lagrange - he of the Lagrange Points - said of his death: 'Il ne leur a fallu qu'un moment pour faire tomber cette tête, et cent années peut-être ne suffiront pas pour en reproduire une semblable.' - 'It took them only an instant to cut off this head, and one hundred years might not suffice to reproduce its like.') It will also remembered that one of Gandhi's acts of civil disobedience was to lead a march in protest at the tax on salt imposed by the British Raj.

CHOUT was an assessment in India equal to a fourth part of the revenue, extracted by the Mahrattas as blackmail. (See, the Raj wasn't so bad after all). The word comes from the Hindi chauth, the fourth part).

OCTROI is another word of French origin, referring to a duty levied on certain goods entering a town, especially in some European countries.

TAILLE was a tax levied by a French king or overlord on his subjects, or on lands held from or under him.

And to get away from the French who seem to have contributed so much to the language of taxation, ZABETA, a word of Arabic origin, is defined simply as a tariff or tax.


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