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15 Words in English That Were Borrowed From Other Languages

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English is notoriously known for plucking words from other languages and throwing them into its lexicon. These terms would constitute an endless list, and although we can’t go through each one, we compiled 15 loanwords used in everyday English.

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Are you familiar with any loanwords in English?

What Is a Loanword?

Do you enjoy going to a café to sip on your favorite beverage as you work or people-watch? You may be familiar with this setting, but did you know that café is a loanword from the French language and means “coffee”?

A loanword is a word that was adopted from one language (the donor language) and assimilated into another (the recipient language) with little to no modification. Loanwords can be slightly adapted to fit the phonological, morphological, and syntactic norms of the recipient language, but their origins remain easily traceable.

Be careful not to confuse loanwords with cognates, which are words that are nearly the same in multiple languages because they share similar etymological origins. Additionally, a calque is another linguistic term that refers to the creation of a new expression by translating each element from another language to another. In contrast, loanwords are not translated but rather adopted directly.

English comprises an endless number of loanwords borrowed from hundreds of languages. Below, we’ll review fifteen loaned expressions taken from five different languages.

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Borrowing words from other languages is a common practice. 

15 Borrowed Words in English

Remember, the etymology of words can often be intricate. The list below offers a succinct connection between the loanword in English and its respective donor language. While a loanword can undergo slight alterations, it usually retains a strong resemblance to the original word form, meaning, or pronunciation.

French Loanwords

1. Ballet

In English, ballet is a “type of theatrical art that uses dance in the form of controlled and precise movements to convey a story, theme, or atmosphere.” In French, ballet refers to the same type of dance.

I have taken ballet classes since I was a little girl, and my dream is to join the New York City Ballet.

2. Déjà vu

Have you ever gone through a scenario that you’re certain you’ve already encountered before? If so, then you’ve experienced déjà vu. In French, déjà vu is also the phrase used for this other-worldly “sensation of having previously lived a moment, even if you haven't.”

I think I have supernatural powers because I constantly get déjà vu.

3. Illusion

The definition of illusion in English is “something that the senses are likely to perceive incorrectly.” This word is not too distant from its many meanings in French, one of them being “deceptive appearance.”

The magician’s many illusions tricked me into believing things that weren’t true.

German Loanwords

4. Angst

Angst is a “deep feeling of anxiety or dread” we may experience from time to time. This is a loanword from German, which defines this word as “fear” or “anxiety.”

I was unaware of the teenage angst phrase until I saw my younger brother go through it.

5. Kindergarten

In English, kindergarten refers to a class for children typically aged five to six. In German, kindergarten is a compound word: “kinder” means “children,” and “garten means “garden.” So, in German, kindergarten literally translates to “children’s garden.”

My aunt cried for hours when she dropped off my cousin on her first day of kindergarten.

6. Pretzel

A pretzel is a baked bread product characterized by a distinct, twisted knot-like shape, often salted on the outside. This word comes from the German word “brezel,” which refers to the same type of baked product.

We went to the county fair and gorged on countless pretzels.

Greek Loanwords

7. Drama

Drama is a noun that involves conflict and emotion, and denotes a specific type of literature. The Greek word is also pronounced drama and means “action, deed” or “play, spectacle.”

Her career in acting began in drama club when she was in seventh grade.

8. Logic

Logic describes “a way of thinking and coming to a conclusion” and the “branch of science that uses formal methods to think about or explain the reason for something.” The Greek word is pronounced “logikí and refers to “the reasoning art” or “ordered thought.”

He used well-articulated logic to persuade the supervisors to let the company have Fridays off.

9. Nemesis

In ancient Greek mythology, Nemesis was the goddess of vengeance and divine retribution. The term has been adopted into English to mean “a long-standing enemy, opponent, or rival that someone has grave difficulty facing and overcoming.”

I love reading and writing, but my nemesis will always be math and anything related to numbers.
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No, knowing loanwords doesn’t make you multilingual—but it can help you expand your vocabulary!

Italian Loanwords

10. Espresso

Do we really need to define what an espresso is? It’s that dark, delicious liquid substance that energizes our soul (a.k.a., strong coffee made by using a machine to force hot water through ground coffee beans). The term originates from the Italian word espresso, which means “pressed out.”

I’m never fully awake until I’ve had my morning shot of espresso.

11. Duo

In English, duo means “a pair of people or things.” In Italian, duo means “a pair,” especially in the context of two performers or artists.

My best friend and I are known as the dynamic duo because we do everything together.

12. Lava

In English, lava refers to molten rock that erupts from a volcano and solidifies as it cools. In Italian, lava means “torrent” or “streams.” It was originally used when referring to flash floods and then to streams of molten rock from volcanoes such as Vesuvius.

The team of geographers captured the up-close photographs of the lava using a drone.

Spanish Loanwords

13. Plaza

If you’re searching for a place to hang out with friends and buy a few things you may need, you may want to go to a plaza. In English, a plaza refers to “shopping centers, commercial complexes, or an open public square.” In Spanish, a plaza primarily denotes an “open public square, which can sometimes be a place where commodities are bought and sold.”

Let’s go to the plaza and look for some goodies to buy.

14. Siesta

If you’ve just finished lunch and feel a little sleepy, you may want to take a siesta or “short nap early in the afternoon.” This word was borrowed from Spanish, where it carries the same meaning.

My husband always asks why we can’t make siestas a part of our daily routines.

15. Tornado

In English, a tornado refers to a type of weather phenomenon consisting of a violent storm and a rotating column of air that comes into contact with the earth’s surface. In Spanish, tornado can also be used when referring to this type of weather occurrence, but its origin is related to the verb “tornar,” which means “to turn or twist.”

As a kid, I was taught to seek shelter in the basement anytime there was a tornado warning.

How To Use Loanwords Correctly

This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of loanwords that help form the English language. There’s not much to using them correctly; just know what they mean and spell them correctly. Keep in mind that their correct spelling sometimes requires the use of diacritics, like in déjà vu and fiancée.

As a multilingual writing assistant, LanguageTool can help you use loanwords correctly. It will show you the correct diacritics required for proper spelling and recommend phrases that could be used instead to ensure clarity.

Did we mention that LanguageTool supports more than thirty languages? Give it a try today!

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