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10 Interesting Loanwords from Around the Globe

Updated on March 13, 2014
English words have been borrowed and developed from all over the globe
English words have been borrowed and developed from all over the globe | Source

English is full of loanwords that we, as native speakers, use everyday, sometimes oblivious to their foreign origins, sometimes merely uninterested by the realisation that foreign words can be transmitted between languages, often even retaining their original spelling and pronunciation. The large number of loanwords that exist in English likely has an immense amount to do with the language's convoluted formation throughout the centuries, a formation that is made even richer by the constant addition of foreign words, adding culture and history from around the globe. I have collected some of the vast number of French and German words in another list, so below is a tribute to ten of my favourite loanwords from other languages that have, to differing extents, been absorbed into English:

'Paparazzi' is an Italian word
'Paparazzi' is an Italian word | Source
  • Paparazzi: An Italian word that crops up in newspapers and magazines all the time, referring to the photographers who pursue celebrities in the street.

  • Feng Shui: This Chinese word denotes the practice of aesthetics, in which it is believed that the design, spatial arrangement of a room, and the furniture within it, affect the path of qi (energy) in manners that can be favourable or unfavourable for patrons.

  • Ad hominen: An experience that I’m sure most of us are familiar with, even if the word used to describe it isn’t immediately recognized. This Latin word refers to the phenomenon of responding to an argument by attacking the person who voiced the claim, rather than the idea itself.

  • Prima donna: Despite the Italian reference to the first lady (the principle female singer in operatic performances) in English this word has come to describe the spoiled and poorly tempered.

  • Aficionado: This Spanish word highlights someone who is extremely devoted to or passionate about a certain activity.

  • Modus Operandi: If you guessed Latin, you’re correct. This word describes one’s habits and methods of operation.

'Karaoke' comes from Japanese
'Karaoke' comes from Japanese | Source

  • Karaoke: Most people will be familiar with this word and its Japanese origins, meaning to entertain by taking turns singing popular songs for an audience. If you hadn't heard of karaoke before this post, I recommend taking a trip down to your local karaoke bar. You'll be in for a pleasant sur- ... well, at least for a surprise.

  • Apartheid: A famous political term pertaining to South Africa's system of segregation on the basis of race, this word comes from Afrikaans, and is used widely to describe the history of segregation in South Africa.

  • Fjord: It's what we'd all like to visit in Scandinavia, and indeed, this word is from one of the Nordic languages. Which one, you might wonder. That would be Norwegian, and it refers to a deep inlet of sea nestled between high, spectacular cliffs.

  • Smorgasbord: If you love to eat, you should thank the Swedish for this word that refers to a buffet containing specific types of food. Derived from smörgåsbord, it literally means 'sandwich table', and is certainly a great addition to the English language.

Some Cuisine/Technical Loanwords

  • Taco - Spanish
  • Goulash - Hungarian
  • Pirouette - French
  • Allegro - Italian
  • Sauerkraut - German

So there we have it: 10 international words that have been borrowed by English speakers and adapted to fit the language itself. Whilst many other loanwords exist, particularly those pertaining to native cuisines and technical musical, dance, and scientific terms, this list tries to encapsulate those included in more colloquial speech, and to highlight the robustness of the English language itself.


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