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English Words
from OTHER Languages


Foreword

Some learners of English may wonder why we have so many words, which apparently mean the same thing (synonyms) in English and whether they are really necessary.  I too have wondered about this very thing in my own study of my mother tongue.  Of course part of the reason for having so many words is the influence of the conquerors of the British Isles. [See History of English page].  But another part of the reason is that words are "borrowed" from other languages when English lacks lexis for the semantics to be expressed.  This page will not show those words which come from Latin or Greek.  Those are on another page [see my Latin and Greek Morphemes Page].  Of course, I don't know everything, so this is a work in progress, and you'd like to contribute, please contact me.

Thanks to all who helped me complete this list!
Also, thanks to Online Etymology Dictionary,
Collins Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary.


 

 
Words of Ambiguous or Unknown Origin
balderdash:
            The Online Etymology Dictionary, the Collins English Dictionary, and the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary all claim that the word is of unknown origin.  However, the origin is quite clear:

             Balder was the Norse/Viking god of the SUN!  {He was the son of Wodin (Light) and Frigga (Love)}

             Dash means to throw/hit/strike (with the purpose to break up into pieces)

The first known WRITTEN usage of the word "balderdash" (1590's) was a concoction of mixed liquors/drinks.

Now, you have to understand that Balder (the Sun god) was responsible for the production of grapes and grain.  And when people DASHED the grapes they got grape juice, which when fermented became wine.  (However, wine is NOT originally an English word.  The word "wine" comes from the Latin word "vino".

So, if you go back to Viking times, balderdash probably meant "wine" (and probably "beer" as well).

NOWADAYS, it means:  non-sense.  (I know!  How did that happen?  No one quite knows.)

clock:  

            original meaning:  to "clock" the bells

            possible cognates:  clang, clog (as in clogging)

            possible origins:   > Middle Dutch clocke
                                            > Old Irish clocc
                                            > Welsh cloch

            Source:  Online Etymology Dictionary

The old clocks (before electrical clocks) were bell towers that someone would ring every hour on the hour.
They used a sun dial to actually tell the time.
 
American Aboriginal Words
Dakota [from Sioux] originally meant "allies"; now is a State's Name
igloo [from Eskimo]  ice house
moccasins [from Algonquian Aborigines] soft leather shoes
Mohawk [from Algonquian Aborigines] a hair style where the sides of the head are shaved
powwow [from Algonquian Aborigines "priest" or "sorcerer"] in English it came to mean a "council" 
squaw [from Algonquian Aborigines] a woman; generally an aboriginal woman
tepee [from the Dakota Aborigines] a tent
squash [from Algonquian Aborigines] an edible gourd (not sweet)
tobacco [probably from the Tain Aborigines, during Columbus's day]
tomahawk [from Algonquian Aborigines] an ax
totem  [from Northwestern Aborigines] "clan"
totem pole:  a pole depicting one's clan's ancestors
totemism:  the making of statues of one's ancestors, and paying respects to one's ancestors
 
Arabic Words
adobe:  brick made from clay or mud
alchemy  [> Arabic "al-kimiya" meaning "the chemistry"]  a special, hidden, secret knowledge of chemistry handed down from ancient times.
al qaeda (al qaida):  "the captain"
alcohol:  fermented fruits
algebra  [> Arabic "al jebr" literally "the reunion"]  a branch of mathematics
algorithm  [> Arabic "al-Khwarizmi" meaning "the man from Khwarazm"]  a method for calculation
Allah:  God
arsena
average:  traced to Arabic 'arwariya "damaged merchandise." Meaning shifted to "equal sharing of such loss by the interested parties."  (source)
caliber
check:  "Check!"  [in the game of chess]
ghoul:  evil spirit
jihad:  holy war
Koran:  holy book containing words of the prophet
mascara
massage:  rub, stroke
mogul   [> Arabic > originally from Mongolian Language:  "Mongol"]  a great, powerful person
               [> comes from the days when the Mongols were great conquerors].
               Sample sentence:  Bill Gates is a software mogul.
monsoon:  season (season of wind)
sofa [> Turkish "sofa" > Arabic "suffa"] couch
tariff
zero:  0
 
Chinese Words
chi:  body energy
Fu Man Chu:  A style of beard similar to a goatee.
ginseng  [> Japanese "jin seng" > Chinese "ren shen" meaning "person" +  "looks like"] an herbal root that looks like the shape of a human being.
kung fu:  a martial art
kowtow  [ > Chinese "ko tou" (strike one's head)] to kneel & bow AND act in an obsequious manner 
qi:  same as chi [this is new pinyin, pronunciation is same as "chi"]
tai chi:  a Chinese art of channeling one's body energy
Tao:  "Way"
Taoism:  a religion, based upon a mixture of the teachings of Lao Tsu and ancient arts/sciences of China
Taoist:  a person who follows Taoism
typhoon:  a hurricane
 
Dutch Words
brick:  something made into a hexahedron, usually clay or mud
monsoon  [from Arabic, then Dutch, then English]:  season (season to sail)
pinky:  one's little finger
yacht:  a kind of boat (used for pleasure)
for a more complete list, click here.
 
Finnish Words
sauna:  a very, very hot room for sweating.  (for health benefits; but should only be done by healthy people;  LOL)
 
French Words
a la carte: "to the card":  using card-paper plates, bowls, etc. AND, self-service
a la mode: "to the fashion":  ((pie)) topped with ice cream
adieu: "to God":  goodbye
amateur: "lover": one who loves to do something, but does not get paid to go it
antique:  very old thing
ballet:  a French style of dancing
boutique:  a shop 
briquette:  a small brick
buffet:  a counter/table where lots of food is laid out, and people pay one set fee to eat as much as they want
bureau: "drawer"; a chest of drawers; a government department/office
canteen:  a bottle, used for hiking/camping
carte blanche: "white paper", i.e., "blank cheque"
c'est la vie:  such's the life:  That's life!
champagne:  white, sparkling grape wine
chateau: small house
chauffeur:  driver (paid driver)
cheque (check):  [from Persian: king]
cigarette:  little cigar
cognizance:  knowledge [from Latin: cognition]
comrade:  close friend [originally: one who shares a room]
crap:  unwanted stuff; excrement
crème de la crème:  "cream of the crop"
crepe:  a thin pancake
croquette:  a French game
faux pas: "false step":  a social mistake
fiancé:  a man who is engaged to be married
fiancée: a woman who is engaged to be married
hors d'oeuvres:  appetizers 
ma'am: shortened form of madam; Mistress
madam:  old: mistress; new: head woman manager/owner of a whore house
massage:  [from Arabic to French to English] to rub and stroke, for medical purposes
masseur:  a man who massages
masseuse: a woman who massages
mayhem:  [> French "maihem" meaning "injury" or "damage"] in English it means mass disorder, war, destruction
mess:  meal
mess hall:  dining hall
mess kit:  a kit of dishes and pots for camping
mister [dictionary says it is an alteration of Master, but I wonder if it is not an alteration of Misseur].
mode:  fashion
model:  a woman who displays new fashions
piss:  urine
rapport: harmonious relationship
rendezvous:  meeting place
respondez si'l vous plait: "RSVP":  Respond, If You Please.
toupe:  man's wig
touque:  a kind of hat (for winter)
vis a vis:  face to face
Voila!:  See!
 
Gaelic Words
(see "Irish-Gaelic Words")
 
German Words
doppelganger:  "double goer"; a person who looks exactly like another person (but not twins)
Kaiser:  king or emperor
kindergarten:  "child garden":  a school for children aged five
poltergeist:  "knocking ghost":  a very angry ghost that can make knocking sounds and sometimes move/throw things
 
Hebrew Words
behemoth:  a huge beast (originally a metaphorical beast representing lights)
el(ohim):  god(s)
kaballa(h):  a collection of esoteric doctrines
leviathan:  a huge sea serpent (originally a metaphorical beast representing water)
messiah:  savior / saviour
qaballa(h):  same is kaballah
rabbi:  religious teacher
sabbath:  the seventh day of the week;  day of rest
sabbatical:  a seventh year; year of rest, usually after six years of hard work.
Satan:  king of the devils
 
Hindi Words
(see "Indian-Hindi Words")
 
Irish-Gaelic Words
banshee: [> Gaelic "bean sidhe" literally "female sprite"] a female spirit,
                 which if heard and/or seen portents death of someone that ye know.  (more about spirits)
Erin go Bragh: [> Gaelic "Eirinn go Brach"] Ireland Forever!
hooligan: [> Irish surname Houlihan > Irish cartoon character named Hooligan] a rough, lawless young person
leprechaun:  [> Gaelic "leipreachān"]  a little elf; brownie; one of the little people
shamrock:  clover
whiskey:  [> Gaelic "whisky" literally "water of life"]  a kind of alcoholic beverage made from corn
 
Indian-Hindi Words
buddha:  enlightened one
Buddha:  The Enlightened One
Buddhism:  the teachings of Buddha (made into a religion)
Buddhist:  one who follows the teachings of Buddha
bungalow:  [> Hindi "Bangla" literally "Bengalese" referring to the Bengalese style house] a low thatched house
caste:  class of society
chakra:  one of 7 centers of energy in the human body
guru:  a religious teacher;  ALSO:  a super smart person
Hindu:  a disciple of Hinduism
Hinduism:  the oldest religion on the planet (from India)
karma:  the bad effects of one's bad actions (law of cause and effect)
nirvana:  escape from karma; bliss
pariah:  [from Tamil to Indian] person of the lowest caste; [...but in English:] an outcast
prana:  body energy waves
Sanskrit:  the written language of India
shampoo:  [> Hindi "champo" to knead or massage]
                   meaning:
                   (1) n.  a kind of liquid soap for washing hair
                   (2) v.  to massage the liquid soap into the hair and scalp
sutras:  holy manuals on various aspects of life
swami:  a title for a religious leader
Veda:  holy books, first known scripture on the planet
yoga:  like Zen, the way of getting in touch with the "true self"
 
Japanese Words
ginkgo:  a kind of gymnosperm (naked seed) tree; also the seed
ginseng:  [Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word "ren shen" (see Chinese Words)]  a kind of herbal root
karaoke:  a singing room
ramen:  a kind of noodle soup
sake:  rice wine
sayonara:  "goodbye"
sashimi:  raw fish
sushi:  raw fish in rice and wrapped with seaweed
Zen:  the way of getting in touch with the "true self" (Buddhist word)  similar to "yoga" [Hindi Word]
 
Korean Words
bulgogi:  marinated, barbequed beef
chaebol:  a family-owned conglomerate
kimchi:  spicy, fermented vegetables
soju:  a whisky made from sweet potatoes
tae kwon do:  a martial art
 
Mongolian Words
Altai:  "golden" (as in the Altaic Mountains)
Altaic:  of or relating to the people that live around the Altai Mountains
Genghis [ > Chingis] The great leader of the 13th century, who conquered more of the Earth than any other man in history.
ger:  yurt (See "Turkish Words" for origin of "yurt")
Gobi:  dessert
khan:  king
mogul: [ > Mongol]  OBSOLETE MEANING:  a person from one of the great conquering tribes, e.g., Mongolians, Turks
                                                NEW MEANING:  any great and powerful person
Mongoloid:  one of the 3 main races on planet earth (according to the out-dated 3-race theory)
                     The 3 races are:  Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid.
                      (A new theory has 9 major races and 113 minor races.)
Mongolism:  (contrary to Mongolian belief, this term does NOT come from Mongolians, but rather from the term Mongoloids); It is the old (out-dated) term for Down's Syndrome. 
Taiga:  The coniferous forests of Siberia
 
Norse (Old Viking) Words
balderdash:  [> Norse mythology "Balder" sun deity + "dash" to smash to bits]  originally  meaning alcoholic beverage; now means non-sense (see Ambiguous Words for more explanation)
berserk: [> Old Norse "ber" (bear) + "serkr" (shirt) meaning "warrior wearing a bear-skin shirt"]  now it is an adjective to describe one who has lost control of one's temper
cake:  [> Old Norse "kaka" meaning "flat, round loaf of bread"]  now it means a leavened, round loaf of bread, usually but not always decorated.
die:  [> Norse "deyja" meaning "to die"]  to pass away
hit:  [> Old Norse "hitta" meaning "to strike"] to strike
rotten:  [> Old Norse "rottin" meaning "decayed"] decayed, but usually applied toward decayed food
scare:  [> Old Norse "skirra" meaning "to frighten"] to frighten
***and probably thousands of other words, as Norse may have been the proto-English.
 
Russian Words
czar: king [from Caesar and related to Kaiser]
shaman:  [> Russian "shaman" > Tungustic languages "saman"] a priest, channeler, spiritual guide
vodka:  a whisky made from potatoes or grain (usually wheat)
 
Spanish Words
adios:  "To God":  Goodbye
adobe [from Arabic, then Spanish, then English] brick made from clay or mud
amigo:  friend
cigar:  rolled tobacco
hasta la vista, baby!:  "Until the view", baby!; i.e.,  "Until I see you again"
hola:  Hello
no problemo!:  [ > "no problema"] = no problem
tequila:  a kind of brandy made from the wine of a fruit of a cactus that grows in Mexico
 
Swedish Words
smorgasbord: same as buffet (see French words)
 
Turkish Words
horde:  camp; army
hummus:  mashed chick-peas
raki:  Turkish alcoholic beverage made from anis
sofa:  couch
yurt:  a circular tent
 
Welsh Words
penguin [> Welsh "pen" (head) + "gwyn" (white)] a bird that lives in Antarctica
 
Yiddish Words
bagel:  a doughnut shaped roll/bread
kosher:  [originally meaning "of proper law"] In English it means "acceptable"
 

 

 Also

There are SO many Latin and Greek words in English.

Please see my Latin and Greek morphemes page.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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