Beg, Borrow or Steal – Loanwords to the English Language

Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own. - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

According to the Global Language Monitor for January 1, 2012, there are an estimated 1,019,729.6 words in the English language. Did you know that hundreds of these words in the English language have been “borrowed” from other languages?  We can’t talk about all of the words in this article. There are way too many. There’s not enough space. There’s not enough time. But we can look at some of these words so you can become more aware of the significant impact of other languages on the English language. You will be able to better understand how languages are interrelated. You can see that if you know a foreign language that you do know more of your own language as well. That’s what Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe points out. You will be a more fluent English speaker. You will have more confidence!

Sometimes these words are called “loanwords” as they were taken from other languages and now incorporated into our own. Loanwords are an inevitable result of contact with other cultures. Sometimes the words were taken because it was convenient to do so. Other times the words sounded great. They offered some style or richness. Or they might have filled a need.  Often you might not know the word was even taken from another language. Some of these words have retained the same spelling and pronunciation from their source language while others have been changed in spelling, pronunciation or both. Some words have even changed their meanings. There are even words that you wonder how they could mean what they do – the word meanings might make you smile. Maybe you have heard some of these loanwords before. You might have even used some of them as part of your vocabulary. Well, this article will highlight some of these loanwords so you can better understand their use.

In this article, the focus will be on words from European countries. Next week’s article will focus on “borrowed” words from other parts of the world. You might even have some of your own to add. Please feel free to share those with me. I’m always interested in what you have to say.

Let’s begin with langue française – the French language. Which English words have come from French?

View of the Louvre Museum and Pont ses arts, Paris - France

French continues to be one of the largest single sources of words for the English language. Take a look at some of these words borrowed from the French language.

Déjà vu – a feeling of having already experienced the present situation

Chowder – a soup or stew made from seafood or vegetables and containing milk or tomatoes

Jambalaya – rice cooked with ham, sausage, chicken, shrimp or oysters and seasoned with herbs

Brigade – a group organized for a particular purpose

Battalion – a large body of troops organized to act together; an army

Rebuff – to reject or criticize sharply; to snub

Bayonet – a dagger-like weapon made to fit on the end of a muzzle

Cognac – a French brandy

Chic – stylish; fashionable

Champagne – a white bubbly wine

Chaise lounge – a long, couch-like chair

Bouillabaisse – a highly seasoned fish stew made with several kinds of fish

Ballet – a specialized dance form with light movements to tell a story

Corsage – a small bouquet of flowers to be worn or carried

Faux pas – a social mistake

Nom de plume – a pseudonym (a fictitious name)Quiche - a baked egg dish

Rouge – a cosmetic of red color used on the cheeks and lips

Roulette – a gambling game that uses a whirling wheel that you spinSachet – a small bag filled with a powdery perfume used to scent clothes

Salon – a fashionable shop

Bigot – someone intolerant of a different church, party or opinion

Chassis - a supporting framework like for an automobile

Clique – a small, exclusive group of people

Denim – a firm, durable cotton fabric

Garage – a building that housed cars or is used for the repair of cars

Grotesque – bizarre or eccentric looking; gross

Jeans – pants made of durable, cotton cloth (denim)Niche – a place, use or work that a person is best suited for

Now onto lengua española – the Spanish language…  See if you can recognize any of these words that are Spanish.

beautiful Sevilla, Spain

Armada – a fleet of armed ships

Bonanza – a source of good fortune and wealth

Macho – being overly masculine in a forceful way

Adobe – sun-dried bricks; the structure made of such bricks

Barricade – to block or obstruct with something

Bravado – a show of bravery

Canyon – a deep narrow valley with high, steep sides

Desperado – a bold or reckless criminal

Embargo – a prohibition on commerce/business

Enchilada – a tortilla rolled with meat and served with chili-seasoned sauce

Mesa – a flat-topped hill with steep sides

Mustang – a small, hearty type of horseTaco – a tortilla rolled up with a filling

Tornado – a violent destructive wind with funnel clouds

Tortilla - a round corn or wheat flat bread eaten with toppings

Vigilante – a member of a volunteer organization that helps to suppress or punish crime when the law seems inadequate

How about some lingua italiana – the Italian language? Have you heard any of these? Used any?

Grand Canal at night, Venice

Alto- a voice, instrument or part below the highest range

Balcony- the upstairs seats of a theater; a platform extending out of a building on an upper floor

Casino – a public room or building for gambling

Cupola – a small dome on top of a larger dome to adorn a roof or ceiling

Duo – a pair especially in music or entertainment; a duet

Fresco – a painting down in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling

Gondola – a light, flat-bottomed boat

Grotto – a small picturesque cave in a garden or walkway

Macaroni – a type of pasta in narrow tubes

Madrigal – a part sung for several voices

Motto – a short sentence or phrase with meaning

Prima donna – the main female singer in an opera

Regatta – a boat or yachting racing event

Sequin – a small, shiny disk sewn on clothing

Soprano - the highest of singing voices

Opera – a work in one or more acts set to music with singers and instrumentalists

Stanza – a verse in a poem; a group of lines in a poem or song

Stucco – a fine plaster used for coating walls

Studio – a room where an artist, photographer or sculptor works

Tempo – the speed of music to be played

Torso – the trunk of the human body

Viola/violin – stringed instruments

Cappuccino – a coffee made with milk that is frothed with steam

Espresso – a strong, black coffee

Linguini/pasta/ravioli/spaghetti – types of noodle dishes

Spumante – a sparkling, white wine

Zabaglione – an Italian dessert made of whipped eggs, sugar and wine

Here are some words from the nederlandse taal – Dutch language.  Did you read any of these or hear any of these words used in conversational English?

Buoy – an anchored float serving for a navigation mark for boats

Commodore – a naval officer of high rank

Skipper – the captain of a boatMart - a trade center or market; a small store

Easel – a self-supporting wooden frame for holding artwork

Etching – process of cutting into a metal surface to make a design

Landscape – the visible features of a countryside or land

Sketch – a rough, unfinished drawing or painting

Furlough – a granted leave of absence

Onslaught – a fierce or destructive attack

Coleslaw – a sliced raw cabbage salad made with other sliced vegetables and a dressing

Crullers – a fried, sweet pastr

yUproar – a loud noise or disturbance

Let’s try a little Deutsch Sprache – German language.  I bet you have heard at least one of these. Ja?

Feldspar – a mineral occurring as colorless or pale crystals

Quartz – a hard, white mineral found in rockLager – a kind of beer, usually light in color

Knackwurst, liverwurst – types of sausage

Noodle – a strip, ring, or tube of pasta

Poodle, Dachshund – types of dogs

Pretzel – a crisp biscuit baked in the form of a knot or stick

Pinochle – a card game

Pumpernickel – a dark bread made from whole-grain rye

Sauerkraut – a pickled, chopped cabbage

Schnitzel – a boneless fried meat usually of veal

Zwieback – a dry, crisp cracker

Stein – a large, earthenware beer mug

Lederhosen – leather shorts with suspenders

Dirndl – a full-wide skirt with a tight waistband

U-boat – a submarine used in WW I and WW II

Delicatessen - a store selling cold cuts, cheeses, and a variety of salads, as well as a selection of unusual or foreign prepared foods

Hausfrau - housewife

Kindergarten – a school or class that prepares students for first grade

Oktoberfest – a traditional autumn festival for beer drinking and fun

Schuss – to ski directly down a slope at high speed

Wunderkind – a person who achieves great success when they are young

Bundt – a type of cake made in a ring

Strudel – a pastry made of thin dough rolled up usually around a fruit filling

Gesundheit – wishing good health to someone who has just sneezed

Kaput – something broken and without use

Wanderlust – a yearning to travel

Have you heard any of these Skandinavie - Scandinavian words?

Fjord – a narrow inlet of the sea between steep slopes

Maelstrom – a violent whirlpool

Ombudsman – one that investigates reported student or consumer complaints

Slalom – skiing in a zigzag course between obstacles

Smorgasbord – a luncheon or supper buffet offering many foods

What about some русский язык – Russian?

Borscht – a soup made mainly from beets

Czar/tsar – a ruler having great authority

Icon – a religious image painted on a wooden panel

Vodka – a colorless liquor distilled from rye or wheat

Bamboo – a woody, tall tropical plant with a hollow, strong stem

Gingham – a cloth fabric of yarn-dyed fabric

Ukulele – a four-stringed guitar

Boondocks – a rural area

Mammoth – a large, hairy extinct elephant; of great size


Linguists who study languages report that there are “borrowed words” in every language throughout the world. Do you know of some words in your native language that have come from other languages? Can you share one of your favorite words? Please write to me at talktocanada. It would be interesting to hear what you have to say. Let me know, too, how your English language is progressing.

Do you have questions about learning English?  You can ask about that using the comments section below. I would be glad to help.

Thanks for sharing. Merci beaucoup (French). Muchas Gracias (Spanish). Grazie (Italian). Dank u zeer (Dutch). Danke (German). Tack. Tusen takk. Tusind tak. (Swedish, Norwegian and Danish). Spasibo (Russian).

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