English Word Origins
Many of the English words we speak today are derived from other languages. They are called loanwords or borrowings. Wikipedia has lists of English words derived from many other languages. The work wiki comes from the Hawaiian word wiki-wiki which means fast. Always wondered why it was called Wikipedia, very appropriately named! I searched and picked out a few words from most of the listed languages. Some of the origins would have been easy to guess like bonsai or pizza. But there were numerous words I was amazed at the origin, i.e. ketchup.
The English Language
English is a member of the Germanic languages which is a subfamily of the Indo-European group.
The Germanic languages consist of:
East: included Gothic (the only one with known text) which are all extinct.
North: (Scandinavian or Norse) includes Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic.
West: includes English, Frisian (spoken in the Netherlands and Germany), Dutch, Afrikaans, German and Yiddish.
There are many people in this country who think we should only speak English. They are speaking other languages without even realizing it!
So follow me on a word origin journey (a French word) around the world.
dingo, kangaroo, koala, wombat, boomerang
I never could get a boomerang to come back to me!
aardvark, banana, jamboree, voodoo, yam, zebra
Why does aardvark start with two a’s?
Algonquian (Native American)
caribou, chipmunk, hickory, hominy, moccasin, moose, muskrat, opossum, pecan, persimmon, powwow, raccoon, skunk, squash, succotash, toboggan, totem, woodchuck
Many animal names came from the Native American tribes.
admiral, coffin, guitar, orange, zero
I never would have guessed guitar to be an Arabic word.
brainwashing, gung-ho, ketchup, silk, tofu
I would have guessed ketchup to be an American word. We drown everything in it!
dollar, howitzer, kolache, polka, robot
I want to thank the Czech’s for inventing the kolache. They are fantastic! My favorites are cherry and lemon. There is a large community of Czech’s in the city where I live and the bakery in the Czech village has the best pastries.
French (29% of our words are derived from French)
abbreviation, ability, bacon, bicycle, blonde, brunette, career, celebrate, change, dessert, eagle, example, family, feast, female, flower, genius, guide, hotel, imaginative, inform, justice, male, marriage, novel, ocean, opinion, parent, passion, perfect, quarter, quest, quiet, reason, restaurant, sample, sex, table, tax, unique, view, village, wage, war, waste
There are numerous items in this list to be thankful for! And a few to avoid!
Bratwurst with Sauerkraut
angst, blitz, bratwurst, kindergarten, poltergeist, sauerkraut, wanderlust
Love the bratwurst but not with sauerkraut! It must be eaten with mustard of horseradish mustard...not ketchup!
amen, cherub, cider, jubilee, kosher, satanic
The first and last words in this list are on opposing sides!
coach, goulash, itsy-bitsy, paprika
I love Hungarian paprika. It is a key ingredient in my deviled eggs.
banshee, bard, galore, kibosh, smithereens
The Irish have some pretty cool words… and fun to say!
artisan, balcony, cartoon, graffiti, gallery, grotesque, replica, studio, villa, virtue
many food words came from Italian: amaretto, artichoke, bologna, broccoli, caviar, cauliflower, coffee, lasagna, latte, macaroni, maraschino, marinara, pasta, pepperoni, pizza, spaghetti, tutti-frutti, and zucchini among others
Hurray for Italian food!
bonsai, karaoke, soy, tsunami, tycoon
Bonsai would be an interesting hobby.
agar, amok, gingham
I never would have pictured gingham coming from Malaysia.
gherkin, kielbasa, schmuck
I know a few people I would like to call the last word, especially when I’m out driving on the Interstate!
cashew, embarrass, tank, tapioca, savvy
Tapioca pudding is one of my favorites. We used to call the tapioca frog eyes when we were kids.
cheetah, cot, dinghy, guru, jungle, loot, shampoo, thug
Guru has become a popular word these days in the US.
caddy, golf, gumption, rampage, tweed, wee
Of course golf and caddy would come from Scotland!
Serbia or Croatian
Many people are fascinated with vampires and some believe they really do exist!
gauntlet, moped, smorgasbord
A smorgasbord is a diner’s idea of heaven!
boondocks, cooties, yo-yo
Yo-yo's are so much fun!
But there is an art to making them work and it is fun to watch someone who is skilled.
More Word Fun
- What is in a Name: Calligraphy – Beautiful Writing
Calligraphy is a Greek word meaning ‘beautiful writing’. I took some calligraphy classes back in the 1980’s. It was a very fascinating hobby which could either be very satisfying or very frustrating...
- Obscure Words A to Z: Fun with Words
Do you have a logolepsy (obsession with words) or a verbophobia (fear or dislike of words)? I’m betting everyone in here has a logolepsy. I thought it would be fun to find an obscure word for each letter of...
balderdash, freckle, penguin
Love the word balderdash. Much more fun to say than nonsense!
bagel, glitch, schmooze, spiel, tush
Shall we go schmooze with someone important?
How many words origins surprised you? And how many were what you expected? Hope you had fun and learned something new. I know I did!
All photos and illustrations are either Public Domain or clipart/images I own.
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on March 13, 2019:
"Schmuck" in German means jewelry; English slang similarly refers to a man's genitalia as his "jewels." Your explanation, though, of the possible Polish derivation makes sense, too.
Another entry for Malay: orangutan ("man of the forest").
"Zero" is just the tip of the iceberg for mathematical terms taken from Arabic: algebra, algorithm ... "Alcohol" also comes from Arabic--ironically, since Islam forbids it, but medieval Arab scientists first identified it.
A lot of clothing-related words come from Hindi: dungarees (old-fashioned name for jeans), jodhpurs (a kind of women's pants), calico (from the city of Calicut--not Calcutta).
I thought "dollar" came from the old German currency the thaler.
Rose Kolowinski (author) on July 26, 2011:
Hi translations. Thanks for your comments. I looked up some other sources and some say is comes from the Yiddish word shmok which literally means penis and some say it comes from the Polish word smok meaning serpent or tail. Whichever language it comes from, it is not a word one wants to be called!
translations from London, UK on July 25, 2011:
Great hub! I, like many people am absolutely fascinated by where words come from. I just wonder about one entry: isn't 'schmuck' derived from Yiddish, rather than Polish? Quite likely as spoken in Poland at the time, hence the geographical origin?
Rose Kolowinski (author) on December 19, 2010:
Thank you very much, Freya. Appreciate the comments!
Freya on December 19, 2010:
I would like to contribute that this blog is really very helpful infact the material provided on this blog is really meaningful and relevant for who se ever wants to improve his spoken english. impressive compilation, articulately presented, impressive thought process in the layout and well thought of the intricacies.
Rose Kolowinski (author) on May 23, 2010:
Thanks for checking.
Jasmine on May 23, 2010:
I know, I checked it. I read articles in four different languages and they usually have the same information, but they do differ sometimes (even on wiki)! Anyway, great work and an excellent hub! Bookmarked already :-)
Rose Kolowinski (author) on May 22, 2010:
Thank you for your comments, vox vocis. Wikipedia must need some corrections as that was my source. : )
Jasmine on May 22, 2010:
Great hub! Cravat would be a synonym for a tie, I suppose, as the tie is a Croatian invention. It is similar to what was once a piece of clothing worn by Croatian mercenaries - small, knotted neckerchief that aroused the interest of Parisians, who later turned it into the latest craze of fashion, of course. One correction, ''vampire'' is derived via French ''vampyre'', which came from German ''Vampir''. During the Austria Empire (German speaking area) it became very popular in Serbia. Small suggestion, treat Croatian and Serbian as two different languages. Croatians can understand Serbian well, but new generations cannot read in Serbian. The written language is completely another thing.
Rose Kolowinski (author) on February 03, 2010:
Thank you Trish, glad you enjoyed it. It was a fun hub to write!
Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on February 02, 2010:
I am fascinated by word origins (including people's names & place names).
Brilliant ~ thanks :)
Rose Kolowinski (author) on November 29, 2009:
Thank you Daniella. Writing is a passion and I've always loved word games. Looking into word origins is fascinating and sometimes surprising! Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
DaniellaWood from England on November 29, 2009:
Fantastic hub, Rose - very detailed.
This'll be very useful for my A Level English Language revision - thank you! Check out the hub I wrote called "The Journey of English" in which I talk about the English language and its origins - we cross tracks a few times!
I look forward to reading more of your hubs, Daniella