Difference Between Hookah and Shisha

Aug 09 , 2022

Difference Between Hookah and Shisha

You are probably familiar with the terms hookah and shisha. And you may be aware that both of these terms essentially have the same meaning or implication. A hookah is a shisha and vice versa. Both are the same types of water pipe that we have grown to love and enjoy.

However, do hookah and shisha literally mean the same thing? Is hookah different from shisha? Or, are we only fussing about language and terminology when nothing else matters except the delicious flavors in voluminous clouds? Well, let’s settle the hookah vs. shisha conundrum.

Hookah and Shisha Are Not Synonymous Words in Any Language of the World

The English term ‘hookah’ comes from the Hindustani word ‘huqqa.’ Hindustani isn’t technically a language but a dialect. It is a mishmash of Urdu and Hindi. Both these languages are widely spoken in India. So, the English hookah has its origins in Indian or Hindustani huqqa.

That’s not surprising because the British had large parts of India as its colonies when hookah became popular in the Asian subcontinent and later spread its wings through many parts of the United Kingdom and Europe.

What’s interesting is that huqqa isn’t originally a Hindustani or Urdu word. The origin of this word is Arabic. Huqqa in Arabic means jar or casket. Huqqa in India means the smoking apparatus or water pipe that we know as hookah or shisha. But, the word shisha has its own distinct story.

Shisha means glass in Hindi and Urdu, both of which are Indian languages. The origin of shisha is ‘shishe’ in Persian, also known as ‘sise’ in Turkish Arabic. In all these languages, shisha is glass, including Egyptian Arabic. 

Now, let’s understand the larger picture about the words hookah and shisha.

  • Hookah is a jar or casket. So, the term isn’t a misnomer for an entire smoking apparatus including a water base, vase, or jar.
  • Shisha means glass, which is what a hookah base or vase is made of. Hence, referring to hookah as shisha isn’t literally wrong.

However, this entire conversation about hookah and shisha is incomplete because other terms exist for the same smoking apparatus we know and love.

Hookah or Shisha Is Also Narghile, Nargileh, Nargile, and Narguile, All from Narikela 

Shisha or hookah is also known as narghile, nargileh, nargile, or narguile in many countries, including the following:

  • Brazil
  • France
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Turkey

All these words refer to what we know as hookah or shisha. But the meaning of these words is neither jar (huqqa) nor glass (shisha). The words refer to hookah or shisha nowadays in many languages, but the origin is in Sanskrit. 


  • French and some other languages use the word narguile to describe a hookah. This term comes from the word nargileh, nargile, or narghile.
  • Nargileh is a Persian or Iranian word used to describe a smoking pipe with a bowl made of coconut shell, much like shisha means the glass base.
  • Nargile, narghile, or nargileh comes from the word narikela, which means coconut in the ancient Indian language known as Sanskrit.
  • Narikela or nargileh refers to coconut shells that were used as the base to hold water to smoke tobacco, much like we use the glass vase in modern hookahs or shishas.
  • While coconut shells are no longer the base for contemporary hookahs or shishas, the words nargile, narghile, nargileh, and narguile are still used in many languages. 

Hookah or shisha is also known as qalyan in modern Iran. The same word becomes kalyan or kaliyan in Russia. So, you can imagine how specific root words become different terms as they crisscross regions, cultures, and languages. 

In Pop Culture, Hookah and Shisha Are the Same Kind of Water Pipe for Smoking

To sum up the war of the languages, here’s what we know about hookah and shisha:

  • Hookah or huqqa means a casket or jar, which serves as the base, vessel, or smoking apparatus we know as shisha.
  • Shisha literally means glass, which is what modern hookah bases or vases are made of, so we use this term almost globally.
  • Narghile or narguile, derived from narikela, is the coconut shell that was in use to hold water for these pipes in the past.

In the current context, hookah and shisha are equally popular terms not only in American culture but across much of Europe and Asia. Every modern feature has its distinct term, such as foils or heat management devices, diffusers, etc. So, whether you use the word hookah or shisha, they both mean or imply the same kind of water pipe for smoking in pop culture here and elsewhere.