There is a good chance you have wondered why there are so many foreign words in the English language. In this article, we will deal with some common words and their etymology i.e. their origin, and how they have changed over centuries. If you would like to learn about the origin of English words, this article is for you (Also learn about onomatopoeia).
Here are some common examples and their origins:
- AVOCADO: As we all know, avocado is a fruit. Its origins come from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs from Spain. It comes from the word ahuacatl which means testicle. This is surprising because there seem to be no resemblance between these two items. However, on closer examination, when you look at how avocados hang from a tree, you see its tiny resemblance to human testicles. The Nahuatl language is spoken by more than 1.5 million people today. Most of its speakers live in the several parts of Central America, and this has caused the English language to borrow a number of words from this language. Other words include: chilli, tomato, and chocolate.
- CAPPUCCINO: This word has roots in an Italian word cappuccio which literary means hood. It has also further roots in the Capuchin Monks, who were renowned for wearing a dark or oak-colored hood, which is the color of a good cappuccino. The first use of the word cappuccino was in 1790 in Austria when Wilhelm Tissot wrote down a recipe for a certain Kapuzinerkaffee, which translates to Capuchin Coffee. However, this recipe is quite different from what we have today, as it contained sugaar, egg yolks, and cream.
- DENIM: The word denim comes from the name of a Frenchman, Serge di Nimes, which was later shortened to di Nimes. Eventually, the clothing item was made in Genoa, Italy, hence its other name: jeans.
- SANDWICH: An English word with a fascinating origin is the word sandwich. The word came from the title, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was an 18th century nobleman and politician. The history of how it began is still being debated by linguists, but the most accepted story is this: The Earl of Sandwich gambled a lot, and to prevent him from ever leaving the table, he would consume his food while being placed between two pieces of bread. Soon, his fellow gamblers began eating the same food he ate. Whenever they ordered their servants, they would simply say: “the same as Sandwich” which later evolved into just “a sandwich.” A few more others believe that the Earl of Sandwich ate his food in this manner so he could attend to his political business.
- HOOLIGAN: The English language has several words to describe a troublemaker, and the word hooligan is one of the most common. According to the Oxford English Etymology Dictionary, the word comes from a notorious family famous several centuries ago. The family’s name was Houlihan, and it was mentioned in a folk song in the 1890s. Another theory states that during the Jacobite Rising of 1745, a Gaelic word was misheard by an English commander, and this caused him to create the word hooligan to show his frustration. The word would later go on to mean anyone that was frustrating or irritating.
Of course, the English language cannot be described as an isolated language. In fact, no language in the world is. Every language is influenced by other cultures, pop culture, and a number of other factors. Also, studying the etymology of words helps you have a deeper insight into other languages. Also, a bulk of English words have their roots in Latin and Greek words, which is due to the age-old interaction between the English language and these other languages. (What are the longest words in English?)