Mike the Psych's Blog

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Foreign words we use in everyday English

There’s a British Council exhibition running until the end of June called the English Effect. Really it should be called the effect on English as it’s about words we use everyday in English which have foreign origins.imported_crate_box_1600_wht_11266

One word we use is Dollar. You may think it’s American in origin but it came from Germany. Originally a silver coin called a Taler (short for Joachimstaler named after the silver mine). The US adopted it when they broke away from the British Empire and wanted something different from British currency.

2682424687_7f65bc0108_zAfter the second world war British people also used the word dollar when referring to 5 shillings (pre-decimal currency = 25 p) as an alternative to “five bob”.  And the half crown coin (two shillings and sixpence = 12.5 p) as half a dollar. These presumbly reflected both the exchange rate and the influence of GIs in the UK during the war.

NB shilling comes from Anglo-Saxon and was worth 12 pre-decimal pennies (=5p). Austria also had schillings pre-euro. And before Slovenia adopted the euro their currency was the tolar.

Other words in common usage include booze from the mediaeval Dutch busen meaning to drink to excess; vampire from 1700s Hungarian; parka from Arctic Russian in 1600s; magazine from Arabic via French (store is still used in original sense as in store of ammunition or a shop in French).

And Avatar is not just a modern sic-fi or a cyber world term but comes from ancient Sanskrit and refers to a Hindu deity taking human form.

There are plenty of words we adopted from our Indian Empire days such as bungalow, doolally,  and pyjamas. We took the word commando from the Afrikaan kommando (which means team in Lithuanian).

Phil Durkin, the principal etymologist at the Oxford English dictionary says that of the 1,000 most common words in the English language half come from languages other than Old English.

We seem to have the knack of importing foreign words and absorbing them into our language – which we then export back to the world.

Author: mikethepsych

He says he's a psychologist but aren't we all?

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