Something Borrowed – English Words with Foreign Origins

European Day of Languages 2019

Studies suggest that the English language is one of the happiest languages in the world and is spoken by more than 1/4th of the global population. But, did you know that the second most spoken language in the world (inclusive of native and foreign speakers) is majorly dominated by words derived from the French and Latin language? Well, it is!

According to research, words originating from French and Latin make up 29% of the English language respectively! Additionally, from the 1000 most commonly used words, almost 50% have French origins.

Here are 15 everyday words with foreign origins, other than French or Latin, borrowed by the English language to make this very communication possible:


1. Anonymous (Greek)

The word ‘anonymous’ comes from the Greek word ‘anōnumos’. Anōnumos is defined as something or someone without a name, similar to the English meaning which defines the word as someone who does not reveal their identity.

2. Loot (Hindi)

Pronounced and defined in the exact same manner in English as it is in the origin language Hindi, the word ‘loot’ refers to stolen goods/property.

For example, a dacoit or robber would keep the ‘loot’ hidden from the eyes of the police.

The word can also be used as a verb, for example, “they looted all the banks in the town post the civil war.’

3. Guru (Sanskrit)

The word ‘guru’ is derived from the Sanskrit language, in which the definition goes beyond that of a teacher or an expert of subject. Rather, it describes an individual with influential leadership, exceptional knowledge and deep, thought provoking intelligence.

However, post the change in time and evolution, the term is commonly used to describe a teacher or a learned individual in the English language (as well as in many regional Indian languages).

4. Safari (Arabic)

An expedition or observing animals in their natural atmosphere is called a ‘safari’. The word originates from the Arabic language and, since having been borrowed by the English language, is used widely across the globe right from jungle safaris to the famous desert safari in the Middle East.

5. Cigar (Spanish)

While many of you may know what a cigar is, the technical definition is ‘a cylinder of dried and fermented tobacco rolled in tobacco leaves for the purpose of smoking’. Quite a hefty definition for something so small, isn’t it?

The English terms originate from its Spanish equivalent ‘Cigarro’, which too was derived from another foreign language known as Mayan and was called ‘Sicar’.

6. Cartoon (Italian)

Be it the old classics by Walt Disney on screen or the daily strips in the newspaper, everybody loves cartoons!

Described as a sketch or drawing showing the subjects in a humorous manner, the word ‘cartoon’ originates from the Italian term ‘carton’ which initially referred to as a drawing on hard paper and was transformed into comical representation in 1843.

7. Wanderlust (German)

Defined as a passionate desire to travel or, quite literally, wander away, the term ‘wanderlust’ derives from German and was borrowed by the English language in 1902.

8. Cookie (Dutch)

Did you know this rolled, sliced and baked sweet dough is originated from the Dutch language? It’s true though, it really does.

The English language derived the word ‘cookie’ from the Dutch term ‘Koekie’, defined as akin to cake, to describe this loved sweet snack.

9. Karaoke (Japanese)

A Japanese form of entertainment that took over the Western world 20-30 years ago, Karaoke was borrowed by the English language and has continued to become an international phenomenon for entertainment.

The Japanese term stands for ‘an empty orchestra’ and is the act of amateur singing with recorded music, commonly performed in clubs or bars.

10. Metropolis (Greek)

Derived from Late Latin to Greek initially, the word ‘metropolis’ refers to the mother city of a colony.

The English derivation of the word describes the term as a big city of high importance.

11. Lemon (Arabic)

The Arabic word from which ‘lemon’ originates is called ‘Laimun’, defined simply as a yellow citrus fruit. The term became a part of the English language family post 1400 and was also influenced by another Middle Eastern language, Persian.

12. Avatar (Sanskrit)

Known as a representation of oneself in the virtual world, the word gained a whole new level of popularity after James’ Cameron’s 2009 science fiction film called Avatar.

13. Ketchup (Chinese)

Honestly, who would’ve guessed this!

Originating from its Chinese equal ‘Ke-stiap’, the word referred to as a concoction of pickled fish and spices in 1692.

Fast forward 100 years in the Western world, tomatoes were added to the sauce to create the very famous condiment called ‘ketchup’.

14. Entrepreneur (French)

In the 13th century, the term ‘entrepreneur’ is derived from the French verb ‘entreprendre’ which meant to undertake or do something. History suggests that by the 16th century, the verb had transformed to form the noun ‘entrepreneur’ which referred to someone who undertook a business venture.

15. Utensil (French) (Latin)

The Latin word ‘utensilia’ refers to things or resources for use and was adapted by the French to form the word ‘ustensile’ which describes cooking tools. By combining the Latin and French versions, the English term ‘utensil’ was then created, and has been commonly used in kitchens across the English-speaking world.

To read about the words borrowed by English from Japanese- Check this article out.

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By Saania

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