English words from other languages prove one thing: our language is more of a mutt than a purebred. It may seem hard to believe, but most of the words in our dictionary come from foreign languages.
Though the big contributors are Latin, Greek, and French, we get words from other languages, too. Arabic, German, Malay, Irish—you name it, English has gotten words from it.
A Few Words from Other Languages
Take the word orange. Oranges are originally from India. But it was Arabs who introduced orange trees to the Mediterranean region.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Arabic word نارنج (nāranj) for the fruit gave rise to naranja (Spanish), arancia (Italian), and orange (French). English got orange from Old French around 1300, but it wasn’t used as a color word until 250 years later.
In a previous list of English words from foreign languages, we discussed the origin of the words hazard, geyser, and tycoon, among others. (These are from French, Icelandic, and Japanese, respectively.)
Languages aren’t closed systems. Far from being an airtight box, English is more like a semi-permeable container.
Our latest list illustrates the same idea: English gets many words from other languages. The word clock appears on the list, and there’s a great story behind it.
The first known use of clock was in the 14th century. The word was spelled clokke at the time, and the object was fitted with bells. In fact, Modern French cloche and Medieval Latin clocca both mean “bell.”
But the word is likely Celtic in origin. The Old Irish word clocc, Welsh cloch, and Manx clagg all mean “bell.” The word spread thanks to early Irish missionaries who used—you guessed it—hand bells.
If there’s one thing that words from other languages teach us, it’s that languages are not closed systems. Far from being an airtight box, English is more like a semi-permeable container. It lets in words from other languages and “leaks” its own words to foreign tongues. And our world is the richer for it.