Where English got all those English words other languages borrowed

In my latest article for TheWeek.com, on the changes that happen to English words when they are “borrowed” into other languages (“How foreign languages mutate English words”), I cite about three dozen words that other languages have borrowed from English and changed some way. But what I don’t mention is how those words got into English in the first place.

What, you didn’t think they just appeared fully formed in English from nowhere, did you?

Here’s the real truth: We did to other languages as other languages then did unto us. Many of our stolen nestlings are actually changelings. Here’s where we got each of the words from:

weekend: from week + end (obviously), which come from Old English wice and ende, which in turn come from Proto-Germanic, as Old English itself did

baseball: base from French bas, from Latin basis; ball from Old English ball

thrill: from Old English þyrlian, which meant ‘penetrate’ and came from a word for ‘hole’ that is the source of the tril in nostril

ballpoint pen: we’ve already covered ball; point from Old French point and pointe, both from Latin pungere ultimately; pen from Old French penne ‘feather’, from Latin penna

corner: from Old French corniere, from Latin cornua, ‘horn, point’

screwdriver: screw from Middle French escroue, which may have been borrowed from Germanic languages; driver from Old English drifan

bath: from Old English bæð

parlor: from Old French parleor, from parler ‘speak’

stadium: from Latin, which got it from Greek stadion; in both cases it referred to a race track and a unit of distance (like calling a track a “quarter-mile”)

medicine: from Latin medicina

brilliant: from French, which got it from Italian and ultimately from Latin beryllus ‘beryl, precious stone’

office: from Latin officium, ‘service, duty, ceremony’

blouse: the source of this one is actually uncertain; it may come from French or Provençal, perhaps from a word for ‘wool’

doctor: ultimately from Latin doctor, ‘teacher’

orange: by way of various languages, from Arabic naranj, which got it from Persian narang, which got it from Sanskrit naranga. It may well be that Tamil did not get it from English – this is what my research source indicated, but I am coming to have second thoughts about that, what with Tamil being so close to the home of Sanskrit and all.

chocolate: from Nahuatl (Aztec) xocolatl ‘bitter water’

microphone: an English invention from Greek parts: mikros ‘small’ and phoné ‘sound’

brandy: shortened from brandewine, from Dutch brandewijn ‘burnt wine’

cigarette: from French, a diminutive form of cigare, which French got from Spanish cigarro

calf: from Old English cealf

pig: presumably from Old English, though it doesn’t show up in any extant Old English texts (adult pigs were called swine)

nervous: from Latin nervosus, from nervus ‘nerve, sinew’

late: from Old English læt

anonymous: from Latin anonymus, from Greek anonymos

handy: formed in Middle English from hand, which comes from Old English, from Proto-Germanic, etc.

bodybag: body from Old English bodig ‘torso’; bag from Early Middle English bagge, probably from Old Norse baggi

salary man: salary ultimately from Latin salarium ‘salt money’; man from Old English, unchanged

one piece: one from Old English an; piece from Old French, probably from Gaulish (a Celtic language)

front glass: front from Old French front ‘forehead, brow’, from Latin frontem; glass from Old English glæs

open car: open from Old English, unchanged; car from Latin carrum, carrus referring to a Celtic two-wheeled war chariot, taken from the Gaulish word karros

gown: from Old French goune, from Late Latin gunna ‘leather garment, hide’

father: from Old English fæder

washing day: washing from wash (of course) from Old English wascan; day from Old English dæg

smoking: from Old English smoca

So out of 42 source words, 18 came from Old English (and Old English got them from Anglo-Saxon, which got them from Proto-Germanic, etc.), while 20 came from French and/or Latin, and the rest from elsewhere. But, with the exception of pure inventions, every word that came from some language came into that language from somewhere else – an older version of the language, perhaps, which got it from a language that evolved into that language, and so on back, or perhaps a different language again. Words mutate and evolve. As we can see.

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4 responses to “Where English got all those English words other languages borrowed

  1. Pingback: Monday word of the week – Enervate | lifeofdeb

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