English Words and their Foreign Origins

The English language (much to many British people‘s surprise) is made up of words that come from several different languages.

People use these words every day without realizing that they’re using French, German, Latin, Italian, Arabic, Greek, Spanish, Finnish…. etc etc.

Here’s just some of the words we use that originate outsite of Britain:


World's Fair 1965

Image via Wikipedia

  • Atrium = From Latin meaning Hall.
  • Aqueduct = Latin for water + channel. A water channel.
  • Via = Latin for `by way of, means.

The amount of Latin words that influence daily English language is far greater than most people realize.

You’ve heard of a Maternity ward, a Paternity test and a college Fraternity?

Mater = Mother, Pater = Father and Frater = Brother.

Incarcer is where we get the word incarcerate. Militia, Ludo and many more too numerous to mention. Click  here for a wiki-list:

Here are more words and their alleged origins. Some are found with more than one or disputed origins.

  • Petite – French
  • Hamburger – German
  • Vigilante – Spanish
  • Naive – French
  • Aeroplane/Airplane – French and also Greek
  • Berserk – Old Norse
  • Key – Spanish
  • Novel/Novella – Italian
  • Algebra – Arabic /al-jabr
  • Neuro/Neuron – Greek
  • Zinc – German
  • Graffiti – Italian
  • Platinum – Spanish
  • Lemon – Persian/Iranian
  • Saga – Old Norse
  • Fiasco – Italian
  • Alligator – Spanish
  • Glitzy – German
  • Jade – Spanish
  • Derma (Skin, think dermatitus) – Old Greek
  • Genie – Arabic
  • Lilac – Persian/Iranian
  • Hyper – Greek

These are just a handful of examples. There are many more. English is a language that heavily comprises of `loan’ words. New words are added, old words have changed meaning, sound, appearance. Some words are almost unrecognizable from their original form and usage.

But this exchange works both ways. Many words are kept in their English form when used in other countries, particularly those associated with modern culture like the internet and corporate brands.

To search for any word’s etymology or history you can use http://www.etymonline.com/,  http://dictionary.reference.com or http://www.merriam-webster.com/


19 thoughts on “English Words and their Foreign Origins

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