Like most other languages, English contains words that are directly taken from other languages. This was true when the English language was new and it is true today. If you didn’t think English was hard enough to learn before, you might think so now that you realize you are going to have to learn some words that are actually from other languages to speak English! There are both common and obscure* words from other language that are used in English, some of these words are used every day while others are used very rarely, some maintain their original meaning (from the language they come from) others have had their meaning altered in becoming a word that is used in English. Today, I am going to start a multiple part series (that I will continue over the next few months) that introduces you to some of the most common “foreign” words in English. Maybe some of these words won’t be as foreign to you as as they are to English, which would be nice, but if they are new words to you I hope this series helps increase your vocabulary and helps you realize just how dynamic a language English is. It is truly a melting pot** language.
First off, take a look at this diagram that I found on Wikipedia that shows the percentage of modern English words derived from different language groups:
It stands to reason that having some knowledge of these three different languages/language groups (Latin, French and Germanic languages) will help you better understand English. For those who do not have any experience in these languages this series reviewing common foreign words in English will also be helpful, I hope.
Let’s begin, below I present five foreign words in English. I have written the foreign word(s) in English in bold; given the language of origin in parentheses, given a definition of the word(s) as they are used in English, and finally I give an example of how the word(s) are used in a sentence.
hoi polloi (Latin) – The common people.
For example: The senator was mixing with the hoi polloi at his campaign event.
a la carte (French) – A menu that features individually priced items as opposed to a set-price menu.
For example: I would rather eat at the a la carte restaurant we saw because it looks less expensive.
bungalow (Hindi) – A small house or cottage with a single story often found near the coast.
For example: Nancy and Brian just bought a bungalow that was for sale in out neighborhood.
diva (Italian) – Any well-known female performer or more generally an acclaimed female in any sphere of endeavor. This word can also have a negative meaning, in which it refers to a person who considers herself more important than others and becomes angry when her standards or demands are not met.
For example: The new hotel was very nervous when the diva arrived as it was their first celebrity to stay there.
eureka (Greek) – A cry of joy or satisfaction when one finds or discovers something.
For example: Eureka! I just found my wallet that I thought I lost two weeks ago.
In the next post in this series, later this month, I will introduce you to more foreign words that are commonly used in English.
* obscure = uncommon or rare
**melting pot = a situation in which different peoples, styles, theories, etc., are mixed together