Begged, Borrowed or Stolen?


Actually just borrowed — in the linguistic sense. We’re doing more lists today, this time a brief inventory of words which English has borrowed from various other languages over the centuries. Unlike economic imports and exports, linguistic borrowing occurs below the radar of trade agreements and trade tariffs and, thankfully, no one needs to ‘repay’ these borrowed terms, so there is no accumulating linguistic deficit. 🙂  In fact, these borrowings have enriched the vocabulary and expressive power of English.

As you can see from the ‘trade routes’ of these words, the path into English sometimes stopped at several linguistic ‘ports’ along the way. The borrowings listed below entered English over a period that stretches from the time of Old English (around 900 AD) to the 19th century.

  • From Hebrew (via Latin and Greek): hemp, cherubim, amen, sabbath
  • From Hebrew (via French): jubilee, babel, cinnamon, sapphire, leviathan
  • From Persian (via Latin): tiger, paradise
  • From Persian (via French): chess, checkmate, arsenic, salamander, scarlet
  • From Sanskrit/Hindi/Romany (via Latin): ginger, pepper, panther
  • From Turkic: tulip,  vampire, horde
  • From Dravidian (Tamil/Malay/Telegu): curry, calico, mango
  • From Japanese: tycoon, zen
  • From Arabic (via French and Italian): hazard, alchemy, saffron, lemon, admiral
  • From Slavic: robot, polka, mammoth, steppe
  • From German: saber, hamster, quartz, zig-zag, protein, poker
  • From Dutch: kit, groove, walrus, boss
  • From Afrikaans: aardvark
  • From Spanish: vanilla, barbecue, cigar, cork, jade, cargo
  • From Italian: bandit, concert, ghetto, balcony, firm, artichoke

The above list is conspicuously missing borrowings from French. This is because such an enormous percentage of modern English vocabulary is borrowed from French. That can be the subject of another post entirely.

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