Our Top 15 Words Borrowed From Other Languages

Shutterstock / Feng Yu © borrowed from other languages

The English language has grown and evolved massively over the last thousand years, with new words being borrowed fromother languages, and picked up and dropped constantly.

The language learning experts at Busuu have looked at the words picked up from countries from across the world, which have gradually morphed into our day-to-day vocabulary.

Words that have been stolen and slightly adapted are known as loanwords.

Our language, English, is influenced by Latin, Greek, French, Norse and Germanic dialects.

Our French influence, for instance, is mainly down to William the Conqueror and the 1066 Norman Conquest.

Over time the language has evolved, and we have grown to steal and borrow bits from over 50 different languages.

As a result, loanwords make up for a hefty proportion of the English language and they blend seamlessly into our everyday vocabulary.

“It all began in the UK over 1,000 years ago, when the Vikings invaded Anglo-Saxon settlements and started swapping bits of language,” Lead Language Expert Federico Espinosa at Busuu said.

“Perhaps English is the most obvious example because it’s such a widely spoken language and the fact that so many different variations of English exist across the world.

“However, this type of language evolution isn’t unique to English. It’s how languages have evolved all over the world.”

Here are our top 15 words English has “borrowed” from other languages:


In Spanish, the word alligator comes directly from the word for their less snappy pals, “el lagarto”, which can be directly translated as “the lizard”!


This brunch favourite has origins in the Aztec Nahuatl language.

The word is derived from the “āhuacatl”, which quite literally means “testicle”.

Whilst it is slightly dirty, it is unsurprising when you remember the shape of the avocado, as well as its reputation for being an aphrodisiac.

It passed through the Spanish language as “aguacate” before we finally got the word avocado in English.


In Chinese, the word brainwash originated as “xǐ nǎo”, as a result of the coercion and mind control that took place during the Korean War.

It later made its way across the Western world to describe any form of indoctrination.


In Spanish, the word “burro” can be translated to the phrase ‘little donkey’, which is the origin of the word for the tasty, rice-filled Northern Mexican dish.

There is also a traditional Colombian Christmas carol called “Mi Burrito Sabanero”, meaning ‘donkey from the desert’.

However, it is hard to see how they made the jump from a mule, to a Mexican treat.


This word hasn’t changed since it started being used in the French language hundreds of years ago.

It originally meant “bottom of a sack”, however has been used as a term for dead-end streets since the 1800s.


In Cyrillic script, the word “дезинформация” translates to “dezinformatsiya”. The KGB used the term for a governmental department created to dispense propaganda.


The word diva comes from the feminine singular for celebrity in Italian, “divo”.

It slowly morphed over time to refer to a woman who has a temperamental nature. Fast-forward to the late 19th century, where it entered the English vocabulary and has been used to describe high maintenance people since.


This fairly new concept has been around since the 1990s and describes small smiley faces used throughout informal text communication, such as this one (^ω^).

Due to its recency, it would be classed as a loan.

The word started its journey in Japan and was initially known as a “kaomoji”. This translated to face (kao) and letters (moji), but evolved to ‘emoji’ in 1999, when a designer was working on the first mobile with internet connection.


The literal translation of “fiaschi” in Italian means a flask. They had, however, already used the term figuratively to describe failing in a performance.

By the time it entered the English language in the 19th century it was used to describe a large-scale failure.


In French, the word directly translates to “gender”, but also roughly translated to “type”, which explains its context in the English language to describe different varieties of films, books and music.


Lots of words from Old French have seeped into our vocabulary. But the origins of this word are a bit grim . . .

Now known as the application and funding process when buying a house, the word “mort” meant “death” and “gage” meaning “pledge”.

Therefore, when taking out a long loan to purchase a house, you are technically making a “death pledge”.


This Italian word entered the English language in the late 16th century.

Its meaning is identical in both languages. But it can also be used to describe a quip, remark and in very rare literary cases, a word.


This tasty, crunchy snack is named after its inventor!

In  1940s Mexico, a chef first whipped up the tasty treat for a regular customer, who asked to be surprised with something different.


This word translates quite literally in German. “Rücken” means back and sack means sack!


Whilst this word is heavily rooted in the Latin word “sapere”, meaning to taste, it made its way over to England via Portugal, where the verb “saber” means “to know” and the term “sabio” means “wise” or “learned”.

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Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.