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.