10 Common English Words With Foreign Origin

Veronika Mark talks on the origin of some words you use everyday.

10 Common English Words With Foreign Origin

A lot of students at HSE studying linguistics are interested in learning the origin of English words. Too often a word you see in front of you has little to do with the English language and is, in fact, French or Latin. According to research, words originated from French and Latin make up around 30% of the English vocabulary.

Today, we would like to present you with a list of the most common “loan words” that come from many different languages and cultures. 

Banana (West African)

It comes as a shock to realize that the name of a banana fruit is actually an African word. It is probably a word of the Wolof language which is spoken in Senegal and the Gambia by the Wolof people.

Lemon (Arabic)

This fruit’s name comes from the Arabic word Laimun meaning a yellow citrus fruit. The word lemon has become a part of the English language in 1400s and was also greatly influenced by the Persian language.

Ketchup (Chinese)

We are sure that you would have never guessed that the word “ketchup” is, in fact, Chinese. In China this sauce was originally made with pickled fish, herbs and spices. Only years later did the Westerners start adding tomatoes and this is how modern “ketchup” was created.

Karaoke (Japanese)

The origin of this word is probably the easiest to guess because a lot of us know how much people in Asia love singing karaoke. Nowadays, this form of entertainment is especially enjoyed in the West. 

Ballet (French)

Originally this form of dancing was developed in France. So, the French now have the word.

Wanderlust (German)

The term “wanderlust” has recently become extremely popular among the youth. It is defined a passionate desire to travel which often lead you to some interesting and unusual places.

Paparazzi (Italian)

This word has its origins in the Italian language. More often than not, it has a negative connotation and describes a pretty unpopular profession.

Penguin (Welsh)

The name of this cute Arctic animal is derived from the Welsh language. “Pen” means “head” and “guin” means “white”.

Victim (Latin)

“Victim” is a Latin word which originally meant “a sacrificial animal or person.” The modern usage is recorded from 1791.

Guru (Sanskrit)

This word originally described an individual that was far greater than a teacher or an expert. A guru could be characterized as a person with influential leadership and exceptional knowledge.

Text by
Veronika Mark