Some Interesting English 'Borrowed' Words
Most English words have been imported from elsewhere, either when invasions
of England took place (eg the Romans, the Vikings and the Normans) or when the
English invaded other countries (eg America and India). Imports from Greek,
Latin, Norse, French, German, Spanish Italian and Dutch are so numerous as to be
unremarkable: the list below contains just a few of the more interesting imports.
Abbey (Ancient Syria Syriac) a religious centre used by monks.
Abyss (Ancient Mesopotamia Sumerian) a deep dark hole.
Anorak (Greenland Inuit) waterproof hooded jacket.
Apartheid (South Africa Africaans) unpleasant race-dividing politics.
Assassin (Ancient Arabic) hired killer -originally 'hashshshin' meaning 'addicted to marijuana'
and applied to warriors who would smoke the drug before battle.
Avalanche (Switzerland Romansh) a major snowslide on the side of a mountain -originally
Avocado (Native South American) a green fruit -originally from 'awa guatl' meaning testicle.
Balaclava (Ukraine Ukrainian) a snug hat that covers the head but not the face.
Banana (West Africa Senegal Wolof) a kind of sweet fruit.
Barbeque (Native Caribbean) raised structure for cooking meat.
Barge (Ancient Egypt Egyptian) a narrow boat.
Barrack (Native Australian Dharuk) to jeer at.
Billabong (Native Australian Wiradhuri) water-hole.
Bistro (Russia Russian) an upmarket cafe -originally meaning 'fast'.
Bizarre (Spain Basque) strange -originally 'bizar' meaning beard, the meaning of the word
later changing to 'handsome' and then 'brave' before acquiring its current meaning.
Boogie (West Africa Ki-Kongo) rhythmic musical blues form -originally 'm'bugi' meaning 'devilishly good'.
Boondocks (Philippines Tagalog) an out-of-the-way place -originally 'bundok' meaning
Bravo (France Breton) a cry of encouragement.
Breeze (Portugal Portugese) a light wind.
Bungalow (India Bengali) small house -originally 'bangal'.
Candy (Arabic) crystallized sugar, named after the Qandi sugar refinery built by the Arabs on Crete around AD 1000.
Capsize (Spain Catalan) to roll over, applied to boats.
Caramel (Arabic) a sickly kind of sweet, invented by Arab-speaking people in the
Middle Ages -originally 'kurat al milh' meaning 'ball of sweet salt'.
Cashew (Native Peruvian and Brazilian Tupi) a kind of sweet nut.
Catamaran (India Tamil) a sailing boat with two hulls -originally meaning 'bound wood'.
Cherub (Ancient Babylonia Akkadian) a childlike winged angel -originally meaning 'gracious'.
Checkmate (Iran and Afghanistan Farsi) the final position in a game of chess -originally meaning 'the king is dead'.
Chocolate (Ancient South America Aztec Nahuatl) sweet brown stimulating foodstuff -originally
Chutzpah (Europe and Israel and North America Yiddish) extreme impudence.
Cigarette (Ancient Yucatan and Guatemala Mayan) from Mayan 'cigar' -originally meaning 'smoke',
via French 'cigarette' meaning 'little cigar'.
Gigolo (Europe Gypsy Romani) a male prostitute.
Coffee (Ethiopia Ethiopian) a stimulating drink -coffee beans are reputed to have been
first discovered in the town of Kaffa, Ethiopia.
Compound (Malaysia and Indonesia and Singapore Malay) an outdoor enclosure.
Cravat (Croatia Serbo-Croat) fancy tie.
Diaper (Ancient Greece Byzantine Greek) baby's nappy -originally meaning 'white'.
Embarrass (Portugal Portugese) to make someone feel foolish or ashamed.
Fetish (Portugal Portugese) a non-standard
Funky (West African Ki-Kongo) good, rhythmic music -originally 'lu-fuki' meaning
'positive sweat' and used by the Bakongo people of West Africa to convey praise for
the integrity of an artist.
Gung-ho (China Cantonese) enthusiastic, eager -originally meaning 'work-together'.
Gypsum (Ancient East Mediterranean Phonoecian) plaster.
Harlequin (France Occitan) one of the special pantomime characters made famous by the Commedia dell'arte. Occitan, also known as Provencal, was spoken in the French
Pyrenees and the Provence region.
Hazard (Arabic) dangerous -originally 'al zahr' meaning 'gaming dice' with early
connotations of danger (going back to the Crusades) due to the use of loaded dice and
Horde (Poland Polish) a scary group of people -originally meaning 'camp'.
Hula (Hawaii Hawaiian) a kind of hip-swinging dance.
Hunk (Belgium Flemish) an attractive male.
Hurricane (Native Caribbean Taino) a very strong wind.
Iceberg (Norway Norwegian) a big lump of ice floating in the sea.
Jaguar (Native Paraguay and Southern Brazil Guarani) a kind of big jungle cat.
Joss (China Cantonese) an incese stick -originally meaning 'luck'.
Juke (West Africa Mandingo, Bambara, Gullah or Wolof) used in 'juke-box',
a machine for playing records -originally Gullah 'juke', 'joog', meaning
'disorderly', 'wicked', or Wolof 'dzug', meaning 'to live wickedly' Mandingo
'dzugu', meaning 'wicked'. In the Bambara language of Mali a 'jook house' is a
'brothel'. When this word was first applied to cheap roadside
cafes and their 'juke-boxes', it was used with heavy irony, effectively meaning
'bad' and used to disparage early rock-and-roll 'white blues' music.
Ketchup (China Amoy) a spicy sauce -originally 'ke-tsiap' made from pickled fish and spices.
Lama (Tibet Tibetan) Tibetan or Mongolian Buddhist monk -originally 'blama' with a silent 'b'.
Lawn (Ancient France Gaulish) an area of grass -originally meaning 'a clearing in the woods'.
Lime (Ancient South America Inca Quechuan) a bitter-tasting fruit.
Magic (Ancient Iran Avetsan) supernatural.
Marmalade (Portugal Portugese) a gooey spread made with boiled sugar and oranges.
Maudlin (Hebrew) not happy.
Minstrel (France Occitan) a wandering musician. Occitan, also known as Provencal, was spoken in the French Pyrenees and the Provence region.
Moccasin (Native America Algonquin) one of a pair of soft shoes.
Mojo (West Africa Ki-Kongo, Gullah or Fulani) having magical properties -originally meaning 'soul'.
In Gullah the word moco means witchcraft or magic. In Fulani moco'o means 'shaman'.
Moped (Sweden Swedish) a small motorised two-wheeled vehicle.
Orange (Ancient India Sanskrit) a sweet fruit -originally from the ancient Sanskrit 'naga ranga',
meaning 'fatal indigestion for elephants'.
Panda (Nepal Nepali) a type of rare black-and-white bear.
Parka (Siberia Nenets) waterproof hooded jacket.
Persona (Ancient Italy Etruscan) personality -originally meaning 'mask'.
Robot (Czechoslovakia Czech) an intelligent machine -originally meaning 'worker'.
Pal (Europe Gypsy Romani) -originally meaning 'brother'.
Penguin (Wales Welsh) an antarctic sea-bird -originally meaning 'white head'.
Posh (Europe Gypsy Romani) upmarket -originally meaning 'half'.
Puffin (Britain Cornish) a sweet-looking seabird with short wings.
Rabbit (France and Belgium Walloon) a small furry animal with big ears.
Rogue (Sri Lanka Sinhalese) undisciplined, unpredictable, non-conformist -originally
applied to savage elephants living apart from the herd.
Saffron (Arabic) a herb used both for cooking and dyeing -originally 'azafran'
in Spanish deriving from the Arabic 'za'faran' meaning 'yellow'.
Sauna (Finland Finnish) hot steamy healing room.
Saga (Iceland Icelandic) a very long story.
Shaman (Siberia Evenki) DIY magician-priest.
Shampoo (India Hindi) a hair-cleaning detergent.
Shibboleth (Hebrew) a group's distinctive password, phrase or slogan, finding its
way into English via Wycliff's 1382 translation of the Bible.
Skua (Britain Faroe Islands Faroese) a type of seagull.
Satsuma (Japan Japanese) a small sweet fruit similar to an orange.
Sleazy (Baltic Sates Latvian) when faith in the fine cloth that had made the region of Silesia
famous became persistently undermined by low-grade imitations, the word 'Silesian'
mutated in English into the more unflattering 'sleazy'.
Slogan (Britain Celtic) a group's distinctive password, phrase or shibboleth -originally
from 'slaugh' and 'gheun' meaning 'battle' and 'cry'.
Squash (Native North American Narragansett) a kind of vegetable -originally 'askútasquash'.
Sugar (Ancient India Sanskrit) -originally 'sarkara'.
Tattoo (Tahiti Tahitian) inked design forced into the skin.
Teepee (Native North American Sioux) a family-sized tent used by the Sioux peoples.
Tobacco (Caribbean Arawak) the plant from whose leaves cigarettes are made.
Toboggan (Native North American Micmac) a vehicle for travelling through snow.
Tomahawk (Native American Algonquin) a throwable axe.
Tomato (South America Aztec Nahuatl) a sweet red vegetable -originally 'tomatl'.
Totem (Native North American Ojibwa) a ritual mascot.
Tundra (Lapland Sámi) featureless land in the far north.
Typhoon (Northern China and Taiwan and Singapore and Malaysia Mandarin) a very strong wind.
Vampire (Serbia Serbo-Croat) a kind of bat that sucks blood.
Voodoo (Nigeria Ewe) a kind of animistic magic.
Yam (West Africa Fulani) the sweet potato, a starchy tuberous root vegetable -originally 'nyami'.
Zombie (Congo and Angola Kongo) dead-but-still-alive -originally the name of a snake-god.
There is an even more comprehensive list of borrowed words