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English that is NOT English?! Part 1

Words of foreign origin are adopted into the English language frequently and many of our most popular English words - words that we really can’t live without, are actually from other countries and cultures! Did you know that most of the English language came from these languages?

  • Latin (29%)

  • French (29%)

  • Germanic (26%)

  • Greek (6%)

  • Other (10%)

Let’s take a closer look at the cultural roots of some really common English words.

Ketchup (Chinese) - A type of thick, smooth, sauce that is usually made from tomatoes.

In the 17th century, the Chinese mixed a combination of pickled fish and spices and called it kê-chiap (Chinese Amoy dialect). By the early 18th century, the table sauce had made it to Malaysia and Singapore, where it was discovered by English explorers. The Indonesian-Malay word for the sauce was kecap and it eventually evolved into the English word, ketchup. English settlers took ketchup with them to first the American colonies.

Tycoon (Japanese) - A wealthy and powerful businessman.

The word tycoon comes from the Japanese word taikun, which means great lord. Historically, it was used as a title for the Shogun, a military leader. The word entered the English language in 1857 when Commodore Perry return to the United States. Former U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln was jokingly called tycoon by his assistants. The word then spread out into the business community, where it is mainly used now.

Gourmet (French) - A person who is a connoisseur of fine food and drink.

The word gourmet is originally from the French term groumet, who was a servant in charge of tasting wines.

Boondocks (Tagalog) - A very rural area or a heavily wooded area.

This word boondocks was introduced to the English language by U.S. military staff who were serving in the Philippines around the 1940s. It comes from the Tagalog word, bundok, which means mountain.

Muscle (Latin) - Body tissue that can contract and produce movement.

In Latin, muscle literally means, little mouse. When you flex a muscle, for example, your bicep, it looks as if a little mouse is running under your skin.

I hope that the example above will give you more insight into how the English language was influenced by other countries and cultures throughout history. Remember that the English language is not just “our” language - it actually belongs to the entire world so we are all connected in some way, don’t you agree?

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