Five English Words That Are Really Foreign Loanwords

[ 0 ] August 10, 2015 |

dialectsBy Sarah-Claire Jordan

Native English speakers tend to notice how many English words are used in other languages while ignoring the words they use everyday that were originally Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, and more. English is one of those languages that has no qualms about taking a foreign word and anglicizing it if there isn’t an existing English word with the same meaning. Some of the words that we consider quintessential English words are actually not at all rooted in the English language.

These incognito foreign loanwords may shock some people, but really they are just a testament to just how much languages influence each other. There are five words in particular that most people would never guess were borrowed from another language, and they are:

  1. Zombie

The word itself is West African in origin, coming from the Kongo words “zumbi” and “nzambi”, meaning “fetish” and “god”, respectively. The word was brought over with the enslaved West Africans who landed in Haiti. It then transformed into the Haitian French “zombi” and Haitian Creole word “zonbi”, and was used in Haiti to describe a corpse that was brought back to life with Vodou magic. Of course, we’ve put our own twist on this by substituting a virus for magic.

  1. Glitch

This is a day and age when almost no one can go a whole day without talking about technology. For those who work in tech, glitches are a huge problem. The word itself is either German or Yiddish in origin, coming from words that mean “to skip, skid, or slide”. The origins of glitch make more sense than other words, as the source languages are both Germanic, just like English, but it can’t be denied that it seems like a native English word.

  1. Cookie

There’s nothing more American than chocolate chip cookies, yet the word “cookie” itself did not originate in the U.S. It comes from the Dutch word for “little cake”, which is “koekje” or “koekie” in a more informal dialect. However, cookie only means “little cake” in the U.S., as in Scotland it is usually used to describe a type of bun, and in the U.K. the word for what we would call a cookie is “biscuit”.

  1. Loot

Almost synonymous with pirates, vikings, and other violent groups, the origins of the word “loot” are actually far from the countries where most looting depicted in American films happens. The Hindi word “lut”, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit word “lotram”, was adopted into the English language and eventually transformed into the word we know today that means stolen property.

  1. Mattress

Something we might not talk about much but that we couldn’t live without is the lovely invention known as the mattress. Originally an Arabic concept, it came over to Europe during the Crusades, when Europeans started to sleep the Arabic way. This meant sleeping on a “matrah”, Arabic for “something thrown down”. So you can thank the Arabic world for the lovely object that lets you slumber comfortably.


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Category: Foreign Language

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