Borrowed Words, part 2

I wrote a post some time back that featured so-called “borrowed words” – words that have become common in English, yet still retain their original spelling/meaning/pronunciation (some words more so than others). Every language has borrowed words, not just English, especially in today’s global village life. For example, how many languages use terms like “computer” and “tee shirt” as they are instead of translating the actual meaning?

So here are a few more words that you’ve probably heard and used in your speaking or writing of English – but they’re not actually English words at all.

Smorgasbord – a large spread of a variety of foods. This term often is used in a more metaphorical sense to describe an array of anything that features great diversity or variety – like, say, a smorgasbord of entertainment available at a county fair. The word is spelled Smörgåsbord in its native Sweden, and specifically describes a buffet-like arrangement of cold foods.

Cuisine – another foodie word here, which basically means “the art of cooking.” It’s a French word (like so many food words are, actually – buffet, gourmet). Cuisine usually refers to the specific types of food and preparation styles associated with a regional area or culture.

Tsunami – a big ocean wave, of the sort that causes devastation on land. Sometimes it’s called a tidal wave, but most people use the Japanese word tsunami.

Tundra – an arctic landscape of rolling hills and treeless vegetation. Alpine tundra refers to a similarly cold and harsh landscape high the mountains where it’s too cold for trees to grow. The word comes from the Sami languages of northern Scandinavia and north-western Russia, and it means “uplands” or “treeless plain.”

Boondocks – in American English it means a remote place, like your uncle’s farm out in the middle of nowhere. American soldiers in the Philippines brought this Tagalog word into English. Bundok means “mountain” in Tagalog.

Opossum – a small marsupial common to the Americas, especially the North American east coast region. If you’re from a country that doesn’t have opossums, consider yourself lucky. Personally, I find them to be creepy creatures – they look like giant rats, and are notoriously slow to get out of the road. The name of this animal comes from the Virginia Algonquian language of the Powhatan Native Americans.

So there you have it – more English words that aren’t English at all. What are some other borrowed words?

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4 thoughts on “Borrowed Words, part 2

  1. Another interesting topic! I am very interested in languages but in reality I am incredibly poor at learning them – something that your blog sadly reminds me of. I guess that as English was so influenced by other languages over time, perhaps I’m more interested in language history than the languages themselves …

    Anyway, one aspect of the French influence on English (which you touch on with “cuisine”) that I always thought was cool is that the words for raw meat (or “animals” as I like to call them ;)) tend to derive from the original Anglo-Saxon words (cow, sheep, pig, chicken, deer etcetera) while the _cooked_ versions derive from the French (beef/boef, mutton/muton, pork/porc, poultry/poulterie, venison/venesoun etcetera).

    I believe that this was something to do with the influx of French chefs at some point, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by guessing at exactly when. The Norman conquest might have had something to do with it though … ;)

    • Fascinating! I never knew that about Anglo Saxon versus French-derived names for animals and their meat. I’m sure the Normal conquest played a key role in all of the French influence in our modern language.

      I’m more of a linguistic or language-history buff myself than a multi-lingual speaker, though I would like to learn more languages. When I was in school, I could carry on a slow but decent conversation in either German or Russian (I studied those languages in high school and college), but now I’ve forgotten most of the vocabulary. And I have a passing understanding of Finnish, though it’s not enough to actually converse. Still working on Icelandic. :-P

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