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English Words-Or Are They? Word Origins- English Words Derived From Other Languages

Updated on September 20, 2009
Languages That Have Influenced English Vocabulary
Languages That Have Influenced English Vocabulary

English Word Origins

Many of the English words we speak today are derived from other languages. They are called loanwords or borrowings. Wikipedia has lists of English words derived from many other languages. The work wiki comes from the Hawaiian word wiki-wiki which means fast. Always wondered why it was called Wikipedia, very appropriately named! I searched and picked out a few words from most of the listed languages. Some of the origins would have been easy to guess like bonsai or pizza. But there were numerous words I was amazed at the origin, i.e. ketchup.


The English Language

English is a member of the Germanic languages which is a subfamily of the Indo-European group.

The Germanic languages consist of:

East: included Gothic (the only one with known text) which are all extinct.

North: (Scandinavian or Norse) includes Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic.

West: includes English, Frisian (spoken in the Netherlands and Germany), Dutch, Afrikaans, German and Yiddish.


English Only?

There are many people in this country who think we should only speak English. They are speaking other languages without even realizing it!

So follow me on a word origin journey (a French word) around the world.



Australian Aboriginal

dingo, kangaroo, koala, wombat, boomerang

I never could get a boomerang to come back to me!



aardvark, banana, jamboree, voodoo, yam, zebra

Why does aardvark start with two a’s?



Algonquian (Native American)

caribou, chipmunk, hickory, hominy, moccasin, moose, muskrat, opossum, pecan, persimmon, powwow, raccoon, skunk, squash, succotash, toboggan, totem, woodchuck

Many animal names came from the Native American tribes.





admiral, coffin, guitar, orange, zero

I never would have guessed guitar to be an Arabic word.





brainwashing, gung-ho, ketchup, silk, tofu

I would have guessed ketchup to be an American word. We drown everything in it!



dollar, howitzer, kolache, polka, robot

I want to thank the Czech’s for inventing the kolache. They are fantastic! My favorites are cherry and lemon. There is a large community of Czech’s in the city where I live and the bakery in the Czech village has the best pastries.



French (29% of our words are derived from French)

abbreviation, ability, bacon, bicycle, blonde, brunette, career, celebrate, change, dessert, eagle, example, family, feast, female, flower, genius, guide, hotel, imaginative, inform, justice, male, marriage, novel, ocean, opinion, parent, passion, perfect, quarter, quest, quiet, reason, restaurant, sample, sex, table, tax, unique, view, village, wage, war, waste

There are numerous items in this list to be thankful for! And a few to avoid!


Bratwurst with Sauerkraut


angst, blitz, bratwurst, kindergarten, poltergeist, sauerkraut, wanderlust

Love the bratwurst but not with sauerkraut! It must be eaten with mustard of horseradish mustard...not ketchup!


amen, cherub, cider, jubilee, kosher, satanic

The first and last words in this list are on opposing sides!



coach, goulash, itsy-bitsy, paprika

I love Hungarian paprika. It is a key ingredient in my deviled eggs.



banshee, bard, galore, kibosh, smithereens

The Irish have some pretty cool words… and fun to say!




artisan, balcony, cartoon, graffiti, gallery, grotesque, replica, studio, villa, virtue

many food words came from Italian: amaretto, artichoke, bologna, broccoli, caviar, cauliflower, coffee, lasagna, latte, macaroni, maraschino, marinara, pasta, pepperoni, pizza, spaghetti, tutti-frutti, and zucchini among others

Hurray for Italian food!


Bonsai Cedar


bonsai, karaoke, soy, tsunami, tycoon

Bonsai would be an interesting hobby.



agar, amok, gingham

I never would have pictured gingham coming from Malaysia.



gherkin, kielbasa, schmuck

I know a few people I would like to call the last word, especially when I’m out driving on the Interstate!



cashew, embarrass, tank, tapioca, savvy

Tapioca pudding is one of my favorites. We used to call the tapioca frog eyes when we were kids. 


cheetah, cot, dinghy, guru, jungle, loot, shampoo, thug

Guru has become a popular word these days in the US.




caddy, golf, gumption, rampage, tweed, wee

Of course golf and caddy would come from Scotland!



Serbia or Croatian

cravat, vampire

Many people are fascinated with vampires and some believe they really do exist!


gauntlet, moped, smorgasbord

A smorgasbord is a diner’s idea of heaven!



Tagalog (Philippine)

boondocks, cooties, yo-yo

Yo-yo's are so much fun!

But there is an art to making them work and it is fun to watch someone who is skilled.


balderdash, freckle, penguin

Love the word balderdash. Much more fun to say than nonsense!



bagel, glitch, schmooze, spiel, tush

Shall we go schmooze with someone important?


English Words?

How many words origins surprised you? And how many were what you expected? Hope you had fun and learned something new. I know I did!


All photos and illustrations are either Public Domain or clipart/images I own.



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    • Robert Levine profile image

      Robert Levine 

      19 months ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

      "Schmuck" in German means jewelry; English slang similarly refers to a man's genitalia as his "jewels." Your explanation, though, of the possible Polish derivation makes sense, too.

      Another entry for Malay: orangutan ("man of the forest").

      "Zero" is just the tip of the iceberg for mathematical terms taken from Arabic: algebra, algorithm ... "Alcohol" also comes from Arabic--ironically, since Islam forbids it, but medieval Arab scientists first identified it.

      A lot of clothing-related words come from Hindi: dungarees (old-fashioned name for jeans), jodhpurs (a kind of women's pants), calico (from the city of Calicut--not Calcutta).

      I thought "dollar" came from the old German currency the thaler.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      9 years ago

      Hi translations. Thanks for your comments. I looked up some other sources and some say is comes from the Yiddish word shmok which literally means penis and some say it comes from the Polish word smok meaning serpent or tail. Whichever language it comes from, it is not a word one wants to be called!

    • translations profile image


      9 years ago from London, UK

      Great hub! I, like many people am absolutely fascinated by where words come from. I just wonder about one entry: isn't 'schmuck' derived from Yiddish, rather than Polish? Quite likely as spoken in Poland at the time, hence the geographical origin?

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      9 years ago

      Thank you very much, Freya. Appreciate the comments!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I would like to contribute that this blog is really very helpful infact the material provided on this blog is really meaningful and relevant for who se ever wants to improve his spoken english. impressive compilation, articulately presented, impressive thought process in the layout and well thought of the intricacies.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for checking.

    • vox vocis profile image


      10 years ago

      I know, I checked it. I read articles in four different languages and they usually have the same information, but they do differ sometimes (even on wiki)! Anyway, great work and an excellent hub! Bookmarked already :-)

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      10 years ago

      Thank you for your comments, vox vocis. Wikipedia must need some corrections as that was my source. : )

    • vox vocis profile image


      10 years ago

      Great hub! Cravat would be a synonym for a tie, I suppose, as the tie is a Croatian invention. It is similar to what was once a piece of clothing worn by Croatian mercenaries - small, knotted neckerchief that aroused the interest of Parisians, who later turned it into the latest craze of fashion, of course. One correction, ''vampire'' is derived via French ''vampyre'', which came from German ''Vampir''. During the Austria Empire (German speaking area) it became very popular in Serbia. Small suggestion, treat Croatian and Serbian as two different languages. Croatians can understand Serbian well, but new generations cannot read in Serbian. The written language is completely another thing.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      10 years ago

      Thank you Trish, glad you enjoyed it. It was a fun hub to write!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      10 years ago from The English Midlands

      I am fascinated by word origins (including people's names & place names).

      Brilliant ~ thanks :)

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      10 years ago

      Thank you Daniella. Writing is a passion and I've always loved word games. Looking into word origins is fascinating and sometimes surprising! Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    • DaniellaWood profile image


      10 years ago from England

      Fantastic hub, Rose - very detailed.

      This'll be very useful for my A Level English Language revision - thank you! Check out the hub I wrote called "The Journey of English" in which I talk about the English language and its origins - we cross tracks a few times!

      I look forward to reading more of your hubs, Daniella


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