Fact Check

Did the Word 'Gauze' Originate from Gaza?

Gaza was once a prosperous harbor known for textile production, a key stop along the trade route between the rest of Asia and Europe.

Published Feb. 2, 2024

 ( Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
Claim:
The word "gauze," woven fabric used for medical purposes, originated from Gaza, the Palestinian territory.

Gauze is a lightweight, loosely woven material most often used for medical purposes, particularly wound care. According to an article from the National Library of Medicine on the use of gauze, it has been manufactured the same way for centuries, and is the oldest wound dressing still in use, dating "as far back as the Ancient Egyptians who used it to wrap bodies prior to burial."

It is believed that the word "gauze" originated from the ancient Palestinian city of Gaza, which sits along the coast of the modern-day Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory. One example of this claim on X (formerly Twitter) posted on Jan. 18, 2024, has gained more than 2,200,000 views and 61,900 likes, as of this writing.

Gaza is believed to be where the fabric itself originated, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Gauze, light, open-weave fabric made of cotton when used for surgical dressings and of silk and other fibres when used for dress trimming. The name is derived from that of the Palestinian city of Gaza, where the fabric is thought to have originated. It is made either by a plain weave or by a leno weave."

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the English word was borrowed from Middle French, with the first recorded use in English occurring in 1561.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word is "said to be named from Gaza in Palestine," but does not state definitively that this is a known fact.

(Image via the Oxford English Dictionary)

An 1832 book by English statistician George Richardson Porter, "A Treatise on the Origin, Progressive Improvement, and Present State of the Silk Manufacture," also credits Gaza with being the word's place of etymological origin.

According to an article by Dr. Ariel Roguin, published on behalf of the American College of Surgeons and titled "Gauze, Origin of the Word," the definitive origin of the word is uncertain. However, Roguin found that the roots of the word can be traced back to the French "gaze" and some forms of the Arabic word "qazz," or "silk," as well as the Persian word "kaz," which also means raw silk.

Some of the earliest uses of words thought to be related to "gauze" have emerged from the 13th century in medieval Latin sources. The word "garza" appeared in Bologna in 1250, and the word "gazzatum" in Budapest in 1279, according to the National Center for Textual and Lexical Resources, a French organization that publishes linguistic data.

Nestled on the Mediterranean Coast, Gaza City lies along a historically vital route for commerce between regions further to the east and the rest of Europe to the west. The city itself, as noted in Porter's 1832 writing, was "formerly a place of considerable magnitude and celebrity." This central location as a harbor alive with the flow of commerce led to the disbursement of many products and crafts made in Gaza across Europe, which may be why many of the earliest uses of the word appear in Europe around the height of Gaza's prosperity as a center of trade for the region.

Lastly, Gaza City, and other cities such as Ramallah, Nazareth, Hebron and Nablus, in particular, have historically been known as centers for weaving and cloth production.

The series of photos above, depicting a man preparing fabric materials to be woven, was taken on a beach in Gaza by Thomas Abercrombie around 1975 for National Geographic.

Despite Israeli blockades currently restricting the flow of goods in and out of Gaza as of this writing, Gazans continue to produce textiles and other products that are exported out of the Gaza Strip.

In sum, most etymological sources point to the name Gaza as the likely origin of the word that has come down to us in English as "gauze." However, given our distance in time from that origin and the complexities inherent in etymology, it is difficult to conclude this definitively.

Sources

Al-Mughrabi, Nidal, and Nidal Al-Mughrabi. ‘Israeli Ban on Gaza Exports Deals Blow to Long-Suffering Economy’. Reuters, 5 Sept. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-ban-gaza-exports-deals-blow-long-suffering-economy-2023-09-05/.

Gauze | Lightweight, Breathable, Soft | Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/gauze. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

Gauze: Origin of the Word. https://editions.mydigitalpublication.comhttps://editions.mydigitalpublication.com/article/Gauze%3A+Origin+of+the+Word/4091692/717461/article.html. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

GAZE : Etymologie de GAZE. https://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/gaze. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

‘Https://Twitter.Com/BlackRedGuard1/Status/1747837325671887289?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1747837325671887289%7Ctwgr%5E948dd1c975768e0fdc3b9f41b30497817e6b8a02%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.Snopes.com%2Ffact-check%2Fgauze-Originate-from-gaza%2F’. X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/BlackRedGuard1/status/1747837325671887289?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1747837325671887289%7Ctwgr%5E948dd1c975768e0fdc3b9f41b30497817e6b8a02%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.snopes.com%2Ffact-check%2Fgauze-originate-from-gaza%2F. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CHAzpqiBL0S/?img_index=3. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

Jones, Vanessa J. ‘The Use of Gauze: Will It Ever Change?’ International Wound Journal, vol. 3, no. 2, June 2006, pp. 79–88. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1742-4801.2006.00215.x.

‘Nol: Weaving Threads of Palestinian History’. Nol Collective, https://nolcollective.com/blogs/news/nol-weaving-threads-of-palestinian-history-1. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

Palestinian Craft – Ecru. https://ecruonline.com/blog/2021/06/10/palestinian-craft/. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

‘Palestinian Handicrafts’. Wikipedia, 29 Jan. 2024. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Palestinian_handicrafts&oldid=1200615304.

‘Philistines’. Wikipedia, 20 Jan. 2024. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Philistines&oldid=1197525511.

Porter, George Richardson. A Treatise on the Origin, Progressive Improvement, and Present State of the Silk Manufacture. Longmans, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1832.

‘قز’. Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary, 14 Nov. 2023. Wiktionary, https://en.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=%D9%82%D8%B2&oldid=76660322.

Taija PerryCook is a Seattle-based journalist who previously worked for the PNW news site Crosscut and the Jordan Times in Amman.