10 words with roots in lesser-known languages

10 Words With Roots in Lesser-Known Languages

  • “Wow, English has a lot of words!”
  • Have you ever thought that before?
  • It may be true, but did you know that many English words actually come from other languages?
  • That’s right—over time, English speakers have “stolen” words from other languages and added them to English.

Those words are often called “loanwords,”especially if they were added to English recently.(The word “loan” means to give something to someone else temporarily.)

In fact, there are probably some words in English that came from your native language!

That means they’ll be really easy for you to learn, so you can quickly expand your English vocabulary.

And by learning the rest of the words in this list, you can even impress your English-speaking friends. The next time you hear one, tell your friends where the word originally came from!

All right, are you ready? Let’s explore 45 common words that English “took” from other languages.  

101 French Words You Regularly Use in English

Even if you’re just starting to study French, believe it or not, you’ve already got a pretty extensive vocabulary! 

The reason for this is over 10,000 English words come from French. Many others come from Latin, the language from which French originated.

This means that a significant number of English words have either exact French counterparts or very similar equivalents in French.

That’s something to celebrate!  But, you might be wondering, just how did all of these French words get into English? How many French words are there in English? Let’s take a look at the French influence on the English language, and how it can help you with French vocabulary today!

When were French words borrowed into English?

10 Words With Roots in Lesser-Known Languages

In order to understand the way French influenced the English language, you have to know a little bit of history.

In antiquity, Celtic languages were spoken in the British Isles. Then, around 50 CE, most of the territory was invaded by the Romans. “Britannia” became a part of the Roman Empire, and Latin became the language of political and administrative life. 

In the 5th  and 6th centuries CE, Germanic tribes, including the Angles and the Saxons, invaded Britain, bringing their language with them.

But Latin remained a strong presence, since it was the language of the powerful and far-reaching Catholic Church (the Germanic tribes had quickly converted to Catholicism).

All religious services and texts were in Latin. This led to words commonly heard during masses and in religious parables becoming a part of everyday vocabulary. 

Some of the Latin words that began to infiltrate the language of British people at this time include “devil” (Latin: diabolus) and “angel” (Latin: angelus). 

10 Words With Roots in Lesser-Known Languages

Vocabulary.com, posted by Arika Okrent

English has borrowed words from all over the world to make up its lexicon. Our friends at Vocabulary.com compiled this list of ten relatively common words with historical roots in languages that are less well known for supplying English words than Latin, Greek, and the traditional Germanic and Romance languages.


someone who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without having a commission from any sovereign nation

The direct ancestor of buccaneer is French for “user of a boucan”—boucan being a type of grill. But the grill itself and the word boucan both have their source in the indigenous peoples of Brazil, where the word in Tupi is rendered mukem.


a small gift (especially one given by a merchant to a customer who makes a purchase)

From New Orleans Creole, the origins of lagniappe are slightly murky. One popular theory has it deriving from Spanish la ñapa (one of the few words in Spanish to begin with ñ) which means “the gift.” La ñapa comes from yapa, a word from Quechua, a native language family of the Andes mountains.


someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field

This word comes from Yiddish meyvn, which means “one who understands.” It was a favorite of the late William Safire, a self-styled language maven.


a small house with a single story

The word entered English from Gujarati, spoken in India. The Gujarati word bangalo in turn comes from a Hindi word meaning “Bengalese, in the style of Bengal.”


tall annual cereal grass bearing kernels on large ears: widely cultivated in America in many varieties

The indigenous word for “corn” entered English from Cuban Spanish maiz. Spanish got it from Arawakan, the language of the indigenous people of the Caribbean, where the form is mahiz.


loud confused noise from many sources

The word was originally whobub, either from Gaelic ub! which was an expression of contempt, or an Old Irish battle cry, abu.


a favorite saying of a sect or political group

This is another word from Gaelic and is also related to battle cries. Slogan comes from sluagh-ghairm, literally “army-cry.”


take arbitrarily or by force

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The South African language of Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch, gave rise to this word. It comes from kommandeeren, Afrikaans for “to command.”


the point above the observer that is directly opposite the nadir on the imaginary sphere against which celestial bodies appear to be projected

This word is originally from Arabic samt ar-ras, which means “the way over the head.” The “m” in samt was misread as an “ni,” so it became sanit when it was borrowed into Latin, eventually resulting in zenith.


13 words we borrowed from Arabic

Arabic is one of the five most spoken languages in the world, with some 400 million users.

It's also one of the most ancient, varied and beautifully scripted languages in existence.

Its influence on Spanish since the time of the Moors is well known, but what's less well known is how many commonly used English words were actually taken from Arabic.

1. Alcohol

One of the most important words in the English language actually comes from the Arabic al-kuhl, (the kohl) which is a form of eyeliner.

Because the cosmetic was made via an extraction process from a mineral, European chemists began to refer to anything involving extraction / distillation as alcohol.

And that's how the “alcohol of wine” (i.e. the spirit you get from distilling wine) got its name.

2. Algebra

From the Arabic al-jabr, which describes a reunion of broken parts, the use of the term came from a 9th century Arabic treatise on math.

The author's name was al-Khwarizmi, which became the mathematical term algorithm.

3. Artichoke

The classical Arabic word, al-harshafa, became al-karshufa in Arabic-speaking Spain.

It has been adopted into French as artichaut, Italian as carciofo, Spanish as alcachofa, and English as artichoke.

4. Candy

Qand refers to crystallised juice of sugar cane, which is where Americans derive their word candy.

It originally came from Sanksrit, and was adopted into Arabic via the Persian language.

5. Coffee

Arabia originally got coffee from eastern Africa and called it qahwah.

Then it went to Turkey – kahve.

Then the Italians – caffè.

And finally, it arrived in Britain as coffee.

6. Cotton

This plant is originally native to India and Central/South America,

7. Magazine

This word is derived from the Arabic makzin, which means storehouse.

We got it from the French (magasin, meaning shop), who got it from the Italians (magazzino), who got it from the Arabic.

8. Mattress

Sleeping on cushions was actually an Arabic invention.

Were it not for Arabic matrah, a place where the cushions were thrown down, the Europeans would never have adopted materacium / materatium (Latin) which passed through Italian into English as mattress.

9. Orange

Originally from South and East Asia, oranges were known in Sanskrit as naranga.

This became the Persian narang, which became the Arabic naranj.

Arabic traders brought oranges to Spain, which led to the Spanish naranja.

Then it went into old French as un norenge, then new French as une orenge.

Then we took it from the French and it became orange.

10. Safari

Safari is the Swahili word for an expedition, which is how it has become so associated with African bush and game tourism.

However, that Swahili word came from the Arabic safar, which means journey.

11. Sofa

The Arabic word suffa referred to a raised, carpeted platform on which people sat.

The word passed through the Turkish language to join English as sofa.

12. Sugar

Arabic traders brought sugar to Western Europe, calling it sukkar (originally from teh Sanskrit sharkara).

And last but not least…

13. Zero

Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced the concept of zero to the Europeans in the 13th century.

He grew up in North Africa, and learned the Arabic word sifr, which means empty or nothing.

He Latinised it to zephrum, which became the Italian zero.

Because Roman numerals couldn't express zero, he borrowed the number from Arabic.

Now, all our digits are known as Arabic numerals.

More: The Arabic text on these bags makes a hilarious but depressing point

A few surprising facts about the Arabic language

Do you know how many Arabic words there are for 'love'? The British Council's Faraan Sayed shares some lesser-known facts about the language.

There are more than 300 million Arabic speakers in the world

Arabic is the official language of the 22 countries that form the Arab League.

There are more than 300 million Arabic speakers across the world, though they predominantly live in the region stretching across the Middle East and North Africa.

It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations (UN). Yet, in the UK, only one per cent of the adult population can hold a basic conversation in Arabic.

Arabic has different forms depending on the context in which it's used

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Arabic is a Central Semitic language, closely related to Aramaic and Hebrew. Standard or Classical Arabic – Fusha – is the distinct form of the language used in media, newspapers, literature and other formal settings.

 ‘Aamiya, which is colloquial (spoken) Arabic, has many forms that are used in ordinary conversation, and it varies from country to country, and even town to town.

The different forms are used side by side to serve different functions in society.

At its core, Arabic developed through a predominantly oral and poetic tradition that flourished in the Arabian Peninsula before the emergence of Islam and a codified Arabic script.

The Arabic script is widely used in art through calligraphy and it is now common to see more modern and contemporary Arabic art being produced; some of it uses a fusion of calligraphy and graffiti, known as 'calligraffiti'.

Arabic constructs words from basic roots

As in other Semitic languages, Arabic has a complex and unusual method of constructing words from a basic root.

 This means that a pattern of three letters such as ‘k-t-b’, will always be the foundation of words that have the semantic field of ‘writing’, such as the work ‘kitaab’ which means ‘a book’ and ‘maktab’ which means ‘a desk or office’.

Using the root system means that direct translation, particularly of poetic texts, is often difficult – the root of a word may contain a meaning that could take a few sentences to translate. However, this can be beneficial, and the beauty of it is that it conveys a depth of both meaning and emotion unmatched by many languages.

There are at least 11 words for 'love' and hundreds of words for 'camel'

Arabic has at least 11 words for love and each of them conveys a different stage in the process of falling in love. The word 'hawa', for example, describes the initial attraction or inclining of the soul or mind towards another. The term comes from the root word ‘h-w-a’ – a transient wind that can rise and fall.

'Alaaqa', which comes from the root word (‘a-l-q) which means ‘to cling on to’ describes the next stage when the heart begins to attach itself to the beloved, before evolving into a blind desire 'ishq' and all-consuming love 'shaghaf'. The final stage of falling in love, 'huyum', describes the complete loss of reason.

Interestingly, the most common word for love in Arabic, 'hubb', comes from the same root as the word ‘seed’ – that which has the potential to grow into something beautiful.

The word for heart, ‘qalb’, comes from the root word (q-l-b), meaning to flip or turn something over.

 Although the word refers to the physical heart, spiritually the root word becomes appropriate when we think of our hearts as something constantly turning over emotions, decisions and opinions.

Be careful to pronounce the first letter correctly as the word 'kalb' translates as ‘dog', and is very insulting.

This expansive vocabulary is not just limited to the world of poetry and literature, but also practical life. Arabic is said to have hundreds of words for ‘camel’. For example, ‘Al-Jafool’ means a camel that is frightened by anything; ‘Al-Harib’ is a female camel that walks ahead of the others by a great distance so that it appears to be fleeing.

‘Trust in God, but tie up your camel’ is a great (and practical) Arabic proverb used to express the nature of destiny and personal responsibility. The matter of destiny is also very much embedded within everyday Arabic phrases such as ‘Insha’Allah’ (If God wills). The expression can be used so fervently that, when asking someone’s name, I was once given the response ‘Ahmed, Insha’Allah’.

Arabic has sounds that don't exist in other languages

There are many differences between Arabic and English, the most obvious one being that it is written from right to left. There are also a few sounds that don’t exist in other languages, such as 'ح' , which is a ‘h’ sound as in ‘hubb’ (love). To get an idea of how this is pronounced, imagine breathing on a window pane to create a mist.

English has many words of Arabic origin

English has many words acquired either directly from Arabic or indirectly from Arabic words that have entered into Romance languages before passing into English.

Examples include: racquet, alchemy, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, alkaline, (the article ‘al’ in Arabic denotes ‘the’), amber, arsenal, candy, coffee, cotton, ghoul, hazard, lemon, loofah, magazine, sherbet, sofa, tariff – and many more.

  • The algebraic letter ‘x’ that represents an unknown number, originates from the Arabic word ‘shay’ (thing), which eventually became translated to ‘xay’ in Spain, leading to its final abbreviation and use in algebra as ‘x’.
  • Even the number system used today was introduced to Europeans by Arab merchants.
  • About the illustrator:

Chris Tompkins is a print designer with a focus on book and poster design, identity creation/branding, illustration, layout and art direction.

His illustration was inspired by the Arabic word 'hubb', meaning love, which comes from the same root as the word 'seed'.

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It shows both love (represented as a heart-shaped leaf) and language (represented as speech bubble-shaped leaves) growing from seeds rooted in the earth. See more of his work at christompkinsdesign.com.

List of English words of French origin

Wikipedia list article
The percentage of modern English words derived from each language group are as follows:Anglo-Norman French then French: ~29%Latin (including words used only in scientific, medical or legal contexts): ~29%Germanic: ~26%Others: ~16%

A great number of words of French origin have entered the English language to the extent that many Latin words have come to the English language. According to different sources, 45% of all English words have a French origin.[1] This suggests that 80,000 words should appear in this list; this list, however, only includes words imported directly from French, such as both joy and joyous, and does not include derivatives formed in English of words borrowed from French, including joyful, joyfulness, partisanship, and parenthood. It also excludes both combinations of words of French origin with words whose origin is a language other than French — e.g., ice cream, sunray, jellyfish, killjoy, lifeguard, and passageway— and English-made combinations of words of French origin — e.g., grapefruit (grape + fruit), layperson (lay + person), mailorder, magpie, marketplace, surrender, petticoat, and straitjacket. This list also excludes words that come from French but were introduced into the English language via a language other than French, which include commodore, domineer, filibuster, ketone, loggia, lotto, mariachi, monsignor, oboe, paella, panzer, picayune, ranch, vendue, and veneer.

Although French is mainly from Latin (which accounts for about 60% of English vocabulary either directly or via a Romance language), it also includes words from Gaulish and Germanic languages (especially Old Frankish).

Since English is of Germanic origin, words that have entered English from the Germanic elements in French might not strike the eye as distinctively from French.

Conversely, as Latin gave many derivatives to both the English and the French languages, ascertaining that a given Latinate derivative did not come to the English language via French can be difficult in a few cases.

Historical context

Most of the French vocabulary now appearing in English was imported over the centuries following the Norman Conquest of 1066, when England came under the administration of Norman-speaking peoples. William the Conqueror invaded the British Isles, distributing lands and property to Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French soldiers.

As a result, Old French became the language of culture and the administration, evolving into Anglo-Norman French. The majority of the population of England continued to use their Anglo-Saxon language, but it was influenced by the language of the ruling elite, resulting in doublets.

Consider for example the words for the meats eaten by the Anglo-Norman nobility and the corresponding animals raised by the Anglo-Saxon peasants: beef / ox, mutton / sheep, veal / calf, pork / pig, or pairs of words pertaining to different registers of language: commence / start, continue / go on, disengage / withdraw, encounter / meet, vend / sell, purchase / buy, commerce / trade. Words of French origin often refer to more abstract or elaborate notions than their Anglo-Saxon equivalents (e.g. liberty / freedom, justice / fairness), and are therefore of less frequent use in everyday language. This may not, however, be the case for all English words of French origin. Consider, for example, some of the most common words in English: able, car, chair, city, country, different, fine, fruit, journey, juice, just, part, people, person, place, real, stay, table, travel, use, very, and wait.

After the rise of Henry Plantagenet to the throne of England, other forms of dialectal French may have gained in influence to the detriment of Anglo-Norman French (notably the variants of Anjou where the House of Plantagenet came from, and possibly Poitevin, the tongue of Eleanor of Aquitaine).

With the English claim to the throne of France, the influence of the language in use at the royal court of France in Paris increased.

The cultural influence of France remained strong in the following centuries and from the Renaissance onward borrowings were mainly made from Parisian French, which became the de facto standard language of France.

Notable fields of French influence


Norman rule of England had a lasting impact on British society.

Words from Anglo-Norman or Old French include terms related to chivalry (homage, liege, peasant, seigniorage, suzerain, vassal, villain) and other institutions (bailiff, chancellor, council, government, mayor, minister, parliament), the organisation of religion (abbey, clergy, cloister, diocese, friar, mass, parish, prayer, preach, priest, sacristy, vestment, vestry, vicar), the nobility (baron, count, dame, duke, marquis, prince, sir), and the art of war (armour, baldric, dungeon, hauberk, mail, portcullis, rampart, surcoat). Many of these words related to the feudal system or medieval warfare have a Germanic origin (mainly through Old Frankish) (see also French words of Germanic origin).

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