Geekyteacher











{October 23, 2009}   A-to-Z Henry Hitchings’ favourite words that English absorbed from other languages

Henry Hitchings, author of The Secret Life of Words (which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Book Prize this week) presents an A-to-Z of his favourite words that have been absorbed into English from other languages

A is for…

Avocado, which comes from Nahuatl, a language spoken by the Aztecs. Their name for it, ahuacatl, also meant ”testicle”.

B is for…

Bonsai. Although we think the tree-cultivating art is Japanese, it originated in China.

C is for…

Coleslaw. Supposedly eaten in ancient Rome, it comes from the Dutch kool-salade (”cabbage salad”).

D is for…

Dachshund, a compound of the German Dachs (”badger”) and Hund (”dog”). Originally the breed was known in Germany as Dachs Krieger, or ”badger warrior”.

E is for…

Enthusiasm. From the Greek entheos, which means ”to be within energy”, suggesting being spiritually ”possessed”.

F is for…

Flamenco, from the Spanish name for a Fleming (i.e. someone from Flanders).

G is for…

Goulash, an invention by Hungarian herdsmen whose name derives from gulyas.

H is for…

Hotchpotch, used in Norman legal jargon to denote property collected and then divided.

I is for…

Intelligentsia, a collective term for the intellectual class which derives from Latin but came to us from Russian.

J is for…

Juggernaut, Sanskrit for a giant carriage used to transport an image of the god Krishna.

K is for…

Kangaroo, from gangurru, the large black male roo in the Guugu Yimidhirr language.

L is for…

Lilac, which comes from the Persian nilak, meaning ”of a bluish shade”.

M is for…

Mandarin. The name of the fruit feels as though it ought to be Chinese, but may well have come from Swedish.

N is for…

Namby-pamby. Nickname of the 18th-century poet Ambrose Phillips, coined by the satirist Henry Careybecause of his sentimental verses

O is for…

Onslaught, from the Dutch aanslag – related to a word in Old High German for a shower.

P is for…

Penguin, a compound of two Welsh words, pen and gwyn, which mean ”head” and ”white” – even though penguins have black heads. It is likely that ‘penguin’ was at one time the name of similar, now extinct bird which had a white patch near its bill.

Q is for…

Quack can be traced to the Dutch kwaksalver, literally someone who hawked ointments.

R is for…

Regatta, from Venetian dialect, it originally signified any kind of contest.

S is for…

Sabotage. Supposed to derive from the tendency of striking workers to damage machinery by throwing shoes into it – sabot being an old French word for a wooden shoe.

T is for…

Tattoo, Captain Cook saw Polynesian islanders marking their skin with dark pigment. Long before that the word signified a signal or drumbeat, a Dutch expression for ‘Close off the tap’, used to recall tippling soldiers.

U is for…

Umbrella, appeared in English as early as 1609 (in a letter by John Donne). In the middle of the 18th century the device was adopted by the philanthropist Jonas Hanway as a protection against the London rain.

V is for…

Vanilla, ”little sheath” in Spanish.

W is for…

Walnut, a modern rendering of the Old English walhnutu (‘foreign nut’), so known because it grew mainly in Italy.

X is for…

Xebec, a little vessel with three masts, from the Arabic shabbak, a small warship.

Y is for…

Yogurt, a mispronunciation of a Turkish word.

Z is for…

Zero, whose immediate source is French or Italian, but its origins are in Arabic – and before that in the Sanskrit word sunya, which meant both ”nothing” and ”desert”.

‘The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English‘ by Henry Hitchings

Advertisements


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

et cetera
%d bloggers like this: