“English; A language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages, and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.” (Bumper Sticker)
A humorous quote that is quite accurate, actually. Of 80,000 English words, roughly 28% originate from Latin, 28% from French, and 25% from Germanic languages (Pie Chart: Wikipedia). So, to honor those countries that have shared their vocabulary, by choice or by force, here is a list of ten words that native English speakers may not know as foreign. Granted, there are thousands of words to choose from, and to pick ten was difficult. After all, how many know that tycoon comes from the Japanese word “taikun” (great lord)? Or, that gung ho is Mandarin Chinese for “gongye hezhoushe” (work in harmony)?
Impress your friends with your new knowledge of the English language as you explain the interesting origin of words like robot (robota, Czech for “drudgery”), chic (originally schick, German for “elegance”), and kiosk (Turkish for “pavilion” or “palace”):
As so vividly demonstrated in the numerous Poltergiest and Amityville Horror movies, a poltergeist is some sort of paranormal (and usually violent) activity taking place around those who are deeply troubled or have been traumatized. The word itself comes from the German words “poltern”, meaning to make noise, and “geist”, meaning ghost. Most of this activity has been attributed to various physical or electrical explanations by skeptics, but like with anything paranormal, there are cases that are too weird for explanation.
You’ve probably heard of the placebo effect, especially in drug testing. A placebo is “an innocuous or inert medication; given as a pacifier or to the control group in experiments on the efficacy of a drug” (wordnetweb.princeton). The noun placebo comes from a Latin verb meaning “I shall please,” in reference to some participants’ belief that the “medication” had an effect. What is actually happening however is that the participant may be unwilling to say that they experienced nothing out of fear of failure or of disappointing the researcher.
Loot, swag, plunder. No matter what word you use, you know that you’re talking about treasure. The word loot itself is an Anglo-Indian word with a root in the Hindi word “lut.” As a Hindi word, loot is an item stolen during war or riot. The word came into the English language during the British occupation of India during the eighteenth century.
An ancient Greek word that means “glory” or “reknown.” In ancient Greek culture, glory was found on the battlefield, much like every other civilization. When a soldier was refused his earned due, or kudos, it was considered a very serious insult. One of the most famous examples of kudos is in the Iliad when Agamemnon takes the maiden Briseis from the soldier Achilles as a gift of honor- kudos earned from his glory in battle.
If there is one thing that the British Army was known for up until the nineteenth century, it was their bright red uniforms, earning them the nickname “redcoats.” This made them an easy target no matter where they went, and in combination with their emphasis on holding their formation, they were sitting ducks especially during the American Revolution. However, if one looks at the British Army now, they wear a different and more sensible color: khaki. The British began using the cloth and color found in their colonization of India, hence the name khaki, which means “dusty” or “earth” in Hindi.
While most people think of the X-Men villain when they hear this word, it actually dates back to pre-colonial times. Juggernaut is actually Sanskrit for “lord of the universe,” and is a form of the Hindu deity Krishna. The word came into the English language when British visitors to India witnessed a parade famous to the Jagannath Temple, in which statues of deities that were forty-five feet tall on platforms with wheels seven feet in diameter are rolled through the streets. Ironic as Juggernaut himself is represented as a young boy often playing a flute.
A word for “slip up,” glitch is believed to be a conglomeration of two words, both that meant to slip or slide, around 1962: “glitshen” (Yiddish) and “glitschen” (German). It was first used in English by American astronauts when there was a spike in an electrical current, and then broadened to other technical mishaps.
Traditionally, confetti is an Italian word to mean “candy,” specifically sugared almonds and other sweet confections eaten during special religious occasions like weddings, baptisms, and first communions. The custom of throwing confetti however, does not come from Italy. In times of antiquity, small food items such as rice, dates, or nuts were thrown during times of celebration to represent fertility and abundance.
Berserk refers to an Old Norse word used to describe the Viking warriors. The word itself means “bear shirt” for the bearskins that the warriors used instead of armor. They believed that by wearing the skins and working themselves into their war frenzy, they would be endowed with the bear’s energy. Sir Walter Scott began using the word in the 1822 in his book The Pirate, more than one thousand years after the Viking invasions.
The origins of this Arabic word date back to the ninth century, when an Islamic sect was led to overthrow the Suni Muslims. Yemeni Shiite Hasan-I Sabbah was the founder of the group and set about his mission by targeting the enemies’ leaders. The group was given the name Hashshashin, meaning hashish-eaters, and was converted into English in 1603 as “assassin.”