35 Commonly Used Words We Totally Stole From Other Languages

You use them regularly, but these words aren't of English origins.

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While the exact number remains up for debate, many linguists estimate that there are more than a million words in the English language. An even tougher number to pin down is how many of those words we technically have the right to claim as our own. The truth is, many of the words we use on a regular basis are actually borrowed from other languages—French, Japanese, Spanish, and Yiddish, to name a few. And some of these foreign-language words—also known as "loanwords"—are so woven into our lexicons that we don't even realize they're actually not of English origins.

1
Genre

Shelf with a row of romance books. Blurry background. Colorful books in a row at a store.
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In English, we use the word "genre" to describe a work of art characterized by a particular style, like horror, romance, comedy, and so on. The word, however, comes straight to us from the French language. In French, genre literally translates to "gender," but it also roughly translates to "type," which explains its context in the English language.

2
Chocolate

Chocolate slices with fresh mint leaves on a dark slate, stone or concrete background.
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While Americans no doubt love chocolate, the word doesn't have origins in the English language. Instead, it was translated to English from Spanish via Nahuatl—the language spoken by the people living in central Mexico during the time of the Spanish conquest. In that language, the word chocolātl was first used to describe a "beverage made by heating cocoa with water or milk," like hot chocolate.

3
Karaoke

man singing karaoke while women watch, relationship white lies
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If you like fumbling through embarrassing renditions 0f your favorite songs in front of friends and strangers then you have Japan to thank for the opportunity to do so. "Karaoke" combines the Japanese words kara—meaning "empty"—and okesutura, meaning "orchestra." The polarizing pastime was a favorite among Japanese businessmen in the '70s before gaining popularity in the U.S. in the late '80s.

4
Patio

patio area in the backyard of a house
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Patio is a Spanish word that refers to the courtyards within buildings, which were popular features in medieval Spanish architecture. Spelled the same in English, the word is typically used in reference to seating areas homeowners have in their backyards.

5
Klutz

a klutz or clumsy person, new words coined
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The word "klutz"—commonly used in the English language to describe a clumsy person—actually has Yiddish origins. It comes from klots, which translates to "wooden beam."

6
Kindergarten

kindergarden teacher
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The education class many children in the U.S. attend between preschool and first grade is called kindergarten—a German word that literally means "children's garden." The concept was created in Germany in 1837 by 19th century educator Friedrich Froebel.

7
Entrepreneur

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Commonly used to describe someone who starts their own business, this word is lifted from the French term entreprendre, which means "to undertake." As an entrepreneur, you're literally undertaking your own enterprise.

8
Mosquito

mosquito on skin
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Mosquitos may be a pests all over the world, but their name a a Spanish word that translates directly to "little fly" or "little gnat."

9
Cul-de-sac

aerial view of a suburban cul-de-sac
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While it's used to describe those streets that are closed off at one end in suburban neighborhoods across the U.S., in France—where the term originated—cul-de-sac literally means "bottom of the bag."

10
RSVP

RSVP card
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You know it's the thing you do when responding to an invitation, but maybe not that it is actually an acronym for the French phrase, répondez s'il vous plaî, which mean "please reply."

11
Vigilante

Red an white warning sign on a fence stating in "Warning - Vigilantes patrolling in this area" with a blank space underneath.
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In English, "vigilante" describes someone who volunteers willingly to fight or suppress crime, often outside the parameters of the law. It entered our vocabulary in the 19th century and come from vigilante—the Spanish term for a "watchman and guard"— and can be traced back to the Latin word vigilare, which means "to keep awake."

12
Sofa

throw on living room sofa, home upgrades
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"Sofa," another word for a "couch" in the English language is originally a Turkish word meaning "raised section of a floor, covered with carpets and cushions." And the Turkish word sofa comes from the Arabic term suffah meaning "bench of stone or wood."

13
Angst

white teenage girl bored in the backseat with headphones on a road trip
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Often used to describes feelings of anger, apprehension, and insecurity during ones teenage years, the word "angst" originated as a German word that means "distress, worry, and anxiety."

14
Diesel

refuel with diesel fuel pump
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The word "diesel," which describes both a type of fuel and a type of engine, also has German originsRudolf Diesel, a German mechanical engineer in the late 1800s and the inventor of the Diesel engine.

15
Ketchup

souffle cup with ketchup names of everyday items
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Although a staple in most American kitchens, the name for this tomato condiment didn't actually originate in the U.S. Instead it comes from the Hokkien Chinese word kê-tsiap, which is a sauce made from fermented fish, according to National Geographic.

16
Corgi

floppy-eared corgi
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The full name of this dog breed is Welsh corgi, so it's no surprise that the name doesn't have English origins. Instead it combines the Welsh words of cor meaning "dwarf" and ci meaning "dog."

17
Cookie

chocolate chip cookies
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While cookies are beloved in the states, the word doesn't derive from the English word "cook." The word for these delicious treats came to us from the Dutch languagekoekjes means "little cakes," and is derived from koek, which simply means "cake."

18
Deli

A mature woman tasting a cheese sample at the delicatessen at her local supermarket before making a purchase.
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This shortened form of the German word delikatessen—which translates to "ready-to-eat foods"—has origins that trace back to the French word délicatesse, meaning "delicacy."

19
Lemon

dish washing hacks
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We have the Arabic language to thank for the name of this yellow citrus fruit. In fact, the words "lemon" and "lime" come from the Arabic words laymūn and līm, respectively.

20
Tattoo

Two men, tattoo artist tattooing a man's arm in his tattoo studio.
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The word for that body art on your bicep is the English adaptation of the Polynesian word tatau, which means "mark made on the skin." Makes sense to us!

21
Mammoth

Woolly mammoth set in a winter scene environment. 16/9 Panoramic format. Realistic 3d illustration.
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The word "mammoth" is both the name a long-extinct animal and a term for anything extremely large in size. It came to us via the Dutch word mammut by way of the Russian term mammot, which means "large, terrible beast."

22
Boycott

boycott strike signs
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In 1870s, Irish farmers faced a crisis that could result in a terrible famine similar to that of the 1840s. In order to prevent this, they formed a group that campaigned against rent increases and evictions landlords were proposing. Charles Boycott, a British army captain, was an agent for an absentee landlord at the time and was ostracized by the community when he tried to evict farmers for not paying rent. As a result, his name became the word we now use to describe that protest strategy.

23
Renaissance

renaissance painting depicting that era
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Used to describe both an era and the style that is reminiscent of that era, renaissance is the French word for "rebirth." And digging even deeper, its origins are in the Old French word renaistre, which translates to English as "to be born again."

24
Glitch

Remember the 1970s and 1980s? A common problem with analog VHS or Betamax -- the damaged videotape.
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The word "glitch" describes a "minor malfunction," usually in terms of electronics. And while its origins are still up for debate, many linguists believe it came from the Yiddish word glitsh—meaning "slippery place" in English.

25
Kudos

young woman giving thumbs up
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"Defined as "praise given for achievement," this word originates from the Greek term kydos, which translates as "fame, renown, and glory."

26
Brunette

Woman with dark hair stands on a top cliff over blue sea view while wind.
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"Brunette," which is used in English to describe someone with brown hair, is directly taken from France. However, in French, brunette is a feminine word for a woman with brown hair. If you were describing a man with brown hair in French, you would use the masculine variation: brunet.

27
Souvenir

Young Female tourist looking for souvenirs on street market on her summer vacation
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"Souvenir" is another French word—describing something kept as a reminder, it literally means "act of remembering."

28
Zero

Financal concepts, a calculator showing zero with magnifying glass
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The concept of nothing in reference to an amount of something comes to us from the Arabic word ṣifr, a term that was coined by Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi in the ninth century. It came to us as "zero" from Medieval Latin zephirum via French and Italian.

29
Alcohol

Young man holding glass of alcohol with hand on head, shot from below the glass up at his face
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The word "alcohol" also comes to us from the Arabic language. It was derived from al-kuhl, which in Arabic referred to a powdered antimony that was used as eye paint. So, when the word "alcohol" first entered the English language, it described powders such as "kohl," not the liquid substance we know today.

30
Boss

handshake Smartest Men Get Ahead
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In English, "boss" describes a person who holds authority and typically manages a group of people in a professional context. The word was directly lifted from the Dutch term baas, meaning "master," and was first used as "boss" in the early 1800s by Washington Irving.

31
Landscape

green valley, waterfalls, and blue sky in sri lanka
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"Landscape" can describe many different things in the English language, from scenery to the perspective of a photograph is taken. Regardless of what context its used in, the word itself comes from the Dutch term landschap, which combines the terms land and schap, or "land-ship."

32
Waffle

waffles and ice cream Craziest U.S. Presidents
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This delicious breakfast food is also brought to us courtesy of the Dutch. Wafel comes from the Proto-Germanic word wabila, meaning "web" or "honeycomb," which makes sense when you look at the shape and texture of the next waffle you find yourself chowing down on.

33
Ranch

Rearview shot of a male farmer tending to his crops on the farm
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No, we're not talking about the salad dressing, but an area of farmland used for raising horses or cattle that takes its name from the Mexican Spanish word rancho, which literally translates to "small ranch."

34
Bagel

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New York City may be the unofficial bagel capital of the U.S., but the actual name for the doughy roll comes from the Yiddish word beygl.

35
Shampoo

Woman at the store buying shampoo
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"Shampoo," which is both a noun for the hair product and a verb for washing your hair with that product, comes from the Hindi and Urdu languages. It's from the word cā̃po, which is an imperative of the word cā̃pnā, meaning "to press" or "massage." As in, you massage shampoo into your hair.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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