Translation musings: borrowed words

Oct 18, 2013 | Language

12940195_sWe can all think of many, many words commonly used in English that have overseas roots, although sometimes not used in quite the correct context… (Delboy’s “mange tout, mange tout” springs to mind). But some might surprise you and have had quite a journey to get here.

Take the word coach.  Although reaching our shores via the French in the 16th century, it originated in Hungary – probably from Kocs, a Hungarian town important for its coaching route and role in making coaches. Apparently the word used in a sporting context also owes its origins to the same source – a trainer being compared to the driver of a horse-drawn carriage.

Portuguese has given us a number of perhaps unexpected words. Dodo comes from doudo – meaning simpleton. The extinction of the Dodo is thought to be owed to their lack of fear of humans, who ate them all. Marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelo – or quince.  And baroque, although entering English from the French in the 18th century, originates from the Portuguese barroco meaning pearl of irregular shape.  It came to mean bizarre and was adopted for the bold artistic style.

Now, cider is a good one! Although you might think of it in terms of a lovely Somerset evening, it came to the English tongue by way of Old French in the middle ages, who took it from the Latin, who took it from the Greek, who took it from the bible in the form of the Hebrew shekhar meaning strong drink. Shekarsikeracisdrecidrecider. Simples!

What’s your favourite ‘borrowed’ word?


Facts and inspiration: British Council – The English Effect

Image credit: <a href=’’>jmhoy / 123RF Stock Photo</a>