Friday, 21 November 2008

A harlot of a language!


Yesterday I was writing about the UK councils who want to remove Latin from the language used in council documents because it is difficult for migrants learning English. I would have thought that such people don't look at the origin of the words but just assume that they are English but I do take Peter's point (in comments to the last post) that you adjust the vocabulary to fit your audience. That should be done across the board, not by banning one segment of the language.

That brings me to the whole fascinating area of where the words in English originate from. They come from everywhere. Surely this is welcoming to migrants? A feeling of home, perhaps. A brief dip into some of the hodge podge of the words in use in English comes up with the following linguistic thefts:

Afrikaans (apartheid, commando, slim, trek),

Amoy - A Sino-Tibetan language (ketchup, tea)

Arabic (alcohol, calibre, monsoon, zero)

Avestan - An extinct language spoken in ancient Persia (bronze, magic, paradise)

Basque - A language spoken in Northern Spain and South West France that, remarkably, is unrelated to any other language in the world (anchovy, bizarre, jingo)

Bengali (bungalow, dinghy)

Carib (barbecue, cannibal, maize)

Czech (pistol, polka, robot)

Danish (fog, kidnap, ombudsman)

Dutch (boss, cookie, lottery, yacht)

Gaelic (bard, golf, slogan, whisky)

Gaulish (ambassador, carpenter, lawn, Paris)

Hungarian (coach, goulash, paprika, sabre)

Italian (bankrupt, fascist, opera, umbrella)

Japanese (judo, karate, soy, tycoon)

Marshallese (bikini)

Maya (cigar, shark)

Nahuatl (chocolate, guacamole, Mexico, tomato)

Nepali (Gurkha, panda)

Norse (berserk, husband, reindeer, window)

Phoenician (Bible, gypsum, purple)

Portuguese (breeze, flamingo, marmalade, molasses)

Russian (bistro, cosmonaut, mammoth, vodka)

Sanskrit (candy, orange, sugar)

Serbian (vampire)

Spanish (canyon, guitar, patio, tornado)

Swedish (boulder, mink, smorgasbord, Tungsten)

Tahitian (tattoo)

Taino - A language spoken in the Caribbean (guava, hammock, hurricane, potato)

Tamil (anaconda, curry, mango, pariah)

Tongan (taboo)

Tupi –A language spoken in the Amazon (cashew, maraca, piranha, tapioca)

Ukrainian (balaclava, Cossack)

For more, see here.


  1. Is that is what is meant by oral sex?

  2. Great post - mum will love this;) It's right up her street as us Yorkshire folk would say. Also, I heard mum telling Uncle Hugh that 30% of the English vocabulary is of French origin.

  3. Great post Lee - you have really put a lot of effort into your research. :-)
    I like photo you have posted, the girl may be a prostitute but I find the colours and the composition interesting. ♥ :-)

  4. Yes, we Malays contributed 23 words to English Language..great for such a small place in the map. One embarassing one is the word 'amok'..looks like the world was new to this amok concept..we introduced it to the world..LOL!

  5. the past 2 posts have been most interesting, lee. thanks.

    one of the languages hubby speaks is tamil, and i am thrilled to know the meaning of "curry" in every sense of that word! :)

  6. I am being pleased to be pointing out that my peoples gave you the word 'jungle' but I am being sad that your people who are coloured green and wellmeaning are being misguided in their exertions to be changing this to be being 'wilderness'. This is being correctness of a most political nature.

  7. I love the way the words so often conjure up our stereotyped impressions of the cultures they come from, like Italian - bankrupt, fascist and opera!

    My favourite is the ancient Persian - bronze,magic and paradise.

  8. what fun! Among the standard potpouri of European nationalities I have in my own heritage is a slice of Potawatomi - and I now know that Chicago came from it, LOL! (Also probably my hometown, Kalamazoo, and many others in Michigan.)

    thanks for sharing the link!

  9. You have been one busy boy, Lee! I said previously it was a "mongrel language" and you have really proved it so. Even then you have left out the Celtic heritage; Coombe, Crag, Avon (interestingly all topographical - all our river names remain from pre-Roman times)


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