20 Words the English Language Borrowed from Others

Many of the words we use today in English (and most all other languages) are loanwords, words that we have borrowed from other languages and incorporated into our own. An inevitable result of contact with foreign cultures, we have been borrowing and using foreign words for centuries and today words continue to enter the English language. We

don’t have to speak the source language to use them; in fact, many times we don’t even know the word we are using has been borrowed from another language.

Why do we borrow words from other languages? Although the history behind loan words is very complex and we don’t entirely know why certain words and phrases are adopted into a language while others are not, loan words are generally used when we encounter a new concept and don’t have a name for it or it cannot be clearly expressed. Other words have been assimilated into our language merely for the purpose of convenience and style.

While some loan words have maintained the same spelling and pronunciation from the source language, others have undergone an adaptation in spelling or pronunciation, or both.

The following are 20 loanwords and phrases used in the English language that have undergone little or no modifications from the donor language:

French

  • Faux pas: a false or wrong step, usually in a social context.
  • Déjà vu: a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

Spanish

  • Vigilante: a member of a self-appointed group who undertake law enforcement in their community.
  • Bonanza: a source of good fortune and wealth.
  • Macho: being overly masculine in a forceful way.

German

  • Gesundheit: wishing good health to someone who has just sneezed.
  • Kaput: something broken and without use.
  • Wanderlust: a yearning to travel.

Swedish

  • Ombudsman: a legal representative; an official assigned to investigate a person’s complaint against an organization.

Russian

  • Mammoth: large, hairy extinct elephant. As an adjective we use it to describe something of great size.

Sanskrit

  • Dinghy: a small rowing boat. We also refer to small inflatable rubber boats as dinghies.

Chinese

  • Gung-ho: to be overly enthusiastic and eager, particularly about taking part in fighting or war.

Japanese

  • Tycoon: “great lord”; today we associate it with a wealthy, powerful person within a business or industry.

Arabic

  • Alchemy: the precursor of chemistry in which alchemists tried to transform base metals into gold.
  • Algebra: “mending of the broken parts”; a branch of mathematics in which letters and symbols are used to represent numbers in formulae and equations.
  • Ghoul: an evil spirit who purportedly robs graves and devours

    corpses.

Persian

  • Shawl: fabric worn around shoulders, head or to wrap round a baby.

Malay

  • Amok: rushing about in a frenzy; behaving uncontrollably.

Hindi

  • Bandanna: large colored scarf.
  • Cot: small bed for babies or small children; small, portable bed.