20 Common English Words Adopted from Other Languages ...

Neecey

There are many common English words adopted from other languages, but they are so embedded into our everyday speech that we don’t even realize that they weren’t English originally. Some look clearly foreign while others are much more surprising, so here are 20 common English words adopted from other languages.

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1

Shampoo

Being such an everyday product, shampoo is definitely one of the most common English words adopted from other languages. It dates back to 1762 and is derived from the Hindustani word ‘champo.’

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The term champo originally referred to the process of massaging or kneading the muscles, a practice that was introduced to England from the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era. The word then evolved to include the cleansing of hair, as the massage was often accompanied by an oil treatment that required washing out afterwards. Thus, the product we now know as shampoo was born, blending the concept of scalp massage with hair cleansing. This surprising etymological journey highlights the way everyday language is enriched by a global tapestry of cultural exchanges.

2

Fiesta

We tend to use this common English word to mean a festival or party more generally, but it’s actually a Spanish word mainly used for religious holidays, and in particular saints’ days.

3

A La Carte

You’ll often see this French phrase on your restaurant menu, and it simply means the act of ordering individual dishes rather than ordering from a fixed-price menu. Its use in English often suggests the food is posh and expensive, but this departs from the original meaning.

4

Smithereens

It may sound like a quaint English word, but this word, that means small fragments or atoms, is believed to be of Irish (Gaelic) origin. You will mostly hear it in phrases such as ‘to explode into smithereens.’ No one is really sure of how old it is, so whether it’s from old or modern Irish is unclear.

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The term smithereens often conjures images of dramatic destruction, seamlessly illustrating the intensity of an explosion or shattering event. Though its exact Gaelic word equivalent is debated, the essence of the term encapsulates the scattering of tiny pieces beyond recognition—an effect with no regard to the original whole. It's a fascinating word that unhinges itself from linguistic borders, settling comfortably into the everyday English lexicon. Despite its dramatic connotation, the word maintains a rather poetic rhythm, proving language is not only a tool for communication but also an art form.

5

Karaoke

No one would ever have suspected this to be a Japanese word, but it is. The meaning in Japanese is ‘empty orchestra,’ and is used to describe an amateur singer accompanied by recorded music. This is one of the common English words adopted from other languages we use in totally the same way as its original meaning and don’t adapt at all.

6

Poltergeist

When you think about it, it seems obvious that this is not an English word but actually one of the many common English words adopted from another language. It doesn’t really sound English and the spelling should give it away. Its origin is German, and roughly translates to mean ‘noisy ghost.’

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The term “poltergeist” is a German word derived from the words “poltern” meaning “to make noise” and “geist” meaning “spirit”. It is used to describe a type of ghost or supernatural entity that is known to cause physical disturbances, such as loud noises, objects being moved or thrown around, and other unexplained phenomena. Poltergeists are believed to be caused by an unknown force or energy, and are often associated with a particular person or location.

Poltergeists have been reported in many different cultures throughout history, and have been the subject of numerous books, films, and television shows. They are often associated with hauntings, and are sometimes described as being mischievous or malicious. While some believe that poltergeists are the spirits of deceased people, others believe that they are spiritual entities that are drawn to certain locations or people.

Poltergeist activity is normally thought to be caused by a living person, often a young person who is going through a stressful period in their life. It is believed that the person’s emotional energy can manifest itself in the form of poltergeist activity.

7

Candy

The origins of common English words are very interesting and not always totally clear. Candy is a very common word derived from either one or a mixture of Old French (sucre candi, or sugar candy), Persian (qand, meaning sugar) and Sanskrit (Khanda, or sugar). It’s unclear in which language it really started, and who borrowed it from whom, but the English took it eventually.

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Sweets have always held a special appeal, and as such, the term candy has meant delectable treats across cultures. The English language, with its penchant for borrowing and adapting, embraced this word warmly. It's intriguing to think about the exchanges between merchant traders and how a word can trickle down through the caravan routes, finding its place in various locales before settling into the English lexicon. The sweet journey of the word itself mirrors the treat's irresistible nature, which manages to transcend language barriers and become a universally recognized symbol of indulgence and delight.

8

Lemon

The earliest occurrence of this word found in English is from customs documents from 1420. The etymological path can be traced back to the Middle East, even though it is unknown where lemons were first found. It’s also not known whether we got the word directly from the Middle East, or if that’s where the French and Italians got it from and that we borrowed it from them.

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Lemons are a type of citrus fruit that are highly acidic, and are known for their sour taste and strong aroma. They are a popular ingredient in many recipes, and are used to add flavor to dishes, drinks, and desserts.

The scientific name for the lemon is Citrus limon. The lemon tree is native to Southeast Asia and is believed to have been cultivated in India, China, and the Middle East since ancient times. Lemons were introduced to Europe by the Romans, and were later brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century.

Lemons are a rich source of vitamin C, which is an essential nutrient for humans. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron and is important for a healthy immune system. Lemons also contain antioxidants, which can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.

In addition to their nutritional benefits, lemons are also used for medicinal purposes. Lemon juice is often used to treat sore throats and colds, and is also used as a natural remedy for digestive issues. Lemon juice is also used as a natural remedy for skin problems such as acne, and can be used to help lighten dark spots and blemishes.

9

Robot

The word robot was introduced to the public in 1920 by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. The play is about a factory that makes artificial people called robots. It’s interesting to consider that such a concept didn’t really exist until this point and that the word is Czech.

10

Shmuck

This is one of the common English words adopted from other languages which is used in US English, but rarely in British English. It entered American English from the Yiddish language, and originally means ‘penis.’ You won’t hear it in Jewish homes, because it’s considered so vulgar it’s taboo.

11

Serendipity

I love this one because as well as being a delicious sounding word also has a romantic origin. This originally Persian word, which we use to describe good fortune, comes from the traditional Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, with Serendip meaning ‘Sri Lanka.’

12

Dollar

It may be hard to believe when it’s the currency that you use every day, but dollar is actually from a Czech word (coming to English through the Dutch language) that dates back to the 1520s when Bohemia began minting coins from locally mined silver. Dollars weren’t properly adopted by the United States until 1792.

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The term dollar traces its etymology to the Joachimsthaler, referred to as thaler for short, which was a type of coin used in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The thaler was named after Joachimsthal, now known as Jáchymov, a town renowned for its silver mines. When the Dutch guilder—an influential currency back then—was modeled after the Joachimsthaler, the term evolved into daalder and then dollar, reflecting the global trajectory of trade and the movement of language across countries and continents. The US dollar, emblematic of the American economy, is a descendant of this linguistic journey.

13

Tofu

Staple food for vegetarians everywhere, Tofu may be Japanese, but the actual word comes from Chinese Mandarin, as it became very popular in oriental cooking as a whole before we were introduced to it.

14

Juggernaut

One of the most interesting common English words with origins in other languages, we use it to describe any destructive and unstoppable force, but it actually comes from the Sanskrit word of one of the names for Krishna, a Hindu god. In British English, it can also be used to describe a large heavy truck or lorry.

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The term juggernaut has a fascinating cultural history. During the Jagannath Temple's annual Rath Yatra festival in Puri, India, massive, heavily decorated chariots bearing the deities are pulled through the streets by scores of devotees. Western observers were struck by the chariots' size and the fervent crowd, leading to the word's metaphorical use in English for any large, overpowering force. Today, when we speak of a juggernaut, we think of anything from a dominant sports team to a political movement that seems impossible to stop. This reflects how language evolves, turning specific cultural references into universal expressions.

15

Piano

The name of this popular musical instrument is shortened from ‘pianoforte’ and Italian word meaning soft-loud. ‘Piano’ is also one of the music terms, indicating it should be played softly.

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The piano is a versatile instrument that has been adopted from Italian language and culture. It was originally called 'pianoforte' which means soft-loud, reflecting its ability to produce both soft and loud sounds. This term was shortened to 'piano' and has become a common English word used in the music world. Interestingly, the word 'piano' is also used as a musical term, indicating that a piece of music should be played softly. This instrument has a rich history and is still widely used in various genres of music, making it an important part of our cultural heritage.

16

Slogan

The word slogan has Irish origins, and was used to describe a battle cry used by Gaelic clans. The fact it was used as a line to be shouted at your enemies and is now something used in marketing makes it one of the most interesting common English words adopted from other languages.

17

Cliché

This French word was originally used to signify a printing plate cast from moveable type, also known as a stereotype. Once the letters were set, it made sense to cast phrases repeatedly, hence our adoption of the word ‘cliché.’

18

Piñata

This Spanish word is actually used to describe a jug or a pot, and originally comes from the Latin pinea, meaning ‘pine cone.’ The idea of breaking a container filled with goodies is from the 14th century and originally the Italians word pignatta was used. Very well known and used throughout the US, we Brits have only just adopted the use of Piñatas at our parties. (In the same way we’ve “adopted” Halloween as a celebration.)

19

Hooligan

You might not expect to see this word on a list of common English words adopted from other languages, but ‘hooligan’ is actually Irish and comes from the Irish family name O'Houlihan. What the family did to deserve their name being used the way it is isn’t known.

20

Malaise

This word is used to describe a general sense of feeling unwell or uncomfortable; either physically, or figuratively within another context. It’s a word borrowed from the French language and has been traced back as far as the 12th century.

This practice of adopting words from other languages doesn’t just apply to English. For example, the French word for weekend is le weekend, and the French word for camping is le camping (cool hey?). With so many common English words adopted from other languages, our language is very interesting. Who knows how many other words we may use on a regular basis that we have borrowed from another language?

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Apparently, noodle is a German word.

This was neat

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I'm Spanish and Fiesta means party. Any kind of party basically haha

The German made kindergarten or the grade before first grade

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