I wrote a post some time back that featured so-called “borrowed words” – words that have become common in English, yet still retain their original spelling/meaning/pronunciation (some words more so than others). Every language has borrowed words, not just English, especially in today’s global village life. For example, how many languages use terms like “computer” and “tee shirt” as they are instead of translating the actual meaning?
So here are a few more words that you’ve probably heard and used in your speaking or writing of English – but they’re not actually English words at all.
Smorgasbord – a large spread of a variety of foods. This term often is used in a more metaphorical sense to describe an array of anything that features great diversity or variety – like, say, a smorgasbord of entertainment available at a county fair. The word is spelled Smörgåsbord in its native Sweden, and specifically describes a buffet-like arrangement of cold foods.
Cuisine – another foodie word here, which basically means “the art of cooking.” It’s a French word (like so many food words are, actually – buffet, gourmet). Cuisine usually refers to the specific types of food and preparation styles associated with a regional area or culture.
Tsunami – a big ocean wave, of the sort that causes devastation on land. Sometimes it’s called a tidal wave, but most people use the Japanese word tsunami.
Tundra – an arctic landscape of rolling hills and treeless vegetation. Alpine tundra refers to a similarly cold and harsh landscape high the mountains where it’s too cold for trees to grow. The word comes from the Sami languages of northern Scandinavia and north-western Russia, and it means “uplands” or “treeless plain.”
Boondocks – in American English it means a remote place, like your uncle’s farm out in the middle of nowhere. American soldiers in the Philippines brought this Tagalog word into English. Bundok means “mountain” in Tagalog.
Opossum – a small marsupial common to the Americas, especially the North American east coast region. If you’re from a country that doesn’t have opossums, consider yourself lucky. Personally, I find them to be creepy creatures – they look like giant rats, and are notoriously slow to get out of the road. The name of this animal comes from the Virginia Algonquian language of the Powhatan Native Americans.
So there you have it – more English words that aren’t English at all. What are some other borrowed words?