English Borrows from Spanish
New World encounters bring new words

by David Johnson

Renegade, mosquito, mustang, boobyEnglish uses many words with Spanish origins. In fact, some scholars say Spanish has contributed 10,000 words to English.

A Linguistic Fiesta

Many adopted Spanish words are food terms, such as tamale, taco, salsa, cilantro, guacamole, enchilada, oregano, and burrito. They are usually used in their original Spanish forms. Others, such as tuna, which comes from the Spanish atún, are variations of the original.

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Other food words are of American Indian origin, but came into English via Spanish. Tomato, for instance, is derived from the Spanish tomate, a corruption of the Nahuatl word tomatl. Chocolate comes from the Nahuatl word xocolatl. Potato comes from papa, meaning white potato in the Inca language, Quechua; and batata, sweet potato in the Taino Indian language of the Caribbean. Banana, on the other hand, entered Spanish from the West African languages of Wolof, Mandingo, and Fulani.

Animal Names

A number of animal words went directly from Indian languages into Spanish and then English. Puma originated in Quechua, while jaguar comes from yaguar, a word of the Guarani who live in what is now Paraguay, and iguana is a modification of iwana, used by the Arawak and Carib of the West Indies.

Riding Through the Desert

When Americans began exploring the Southwest in the early 19th century they encountered an established Mexican culture, which has provided English with many everyday words. Some involve horseback riding, including rodeo, lasso, and lariat, since the horse was a key part of frontier life for both Mexicans and Americans.

Ranch, a common English word today, hails from the Mexican Spanish rancho, meaning ranch, settlement, or meat ration.

Sailing the Spanish Main

Hurricane, tobacco, and hammock came to English from the Caribbean. In the 17th and 18th centuries American and English traders plied the ports of the West Indies and South America. Weather often required extended stays in these ports, acquainting the English speakers with Spanish culture.

In addition, buccaneers in search of treasure sailed "the Spanish Main," the South American mainland from the Orinoco River in present-day Venezuela to Panama. It is likely they also acquired many Spanish words now used in English.

Common Words with Spanish Origins

Alligator: el lagarto, the lizard
Booby: bobo, silly or selfish, from the Latin for stammering, balbus
Bronco: meaning wild or rough
Cafeteria: cafetería, a coffee shop
Cargo: cargar, to load
Cigar, Cigarette: cigarro
Comrade: camarada, old Spanish for barracks company or roommate
Guerrilla: a small raiding party or fighting force
Hoosegow: from juzgado, a tribunal or courtroom, past participle of juzgar, to judge
Mustang: mestengo or mesteño, a stray animal
Patio: courtyard in Spanish
Peccadillo: a form of pecado, to sin
Renegade: renegado, deserter or outlaw
Savvy: saber, to know
Tornado: tornar, to turn, tronada, thunderstorm
Vamoose: vamos, let's go

Words with the same meaning in both languages include aficionado, armada, barracuda, mosquito, tobacco, and vanilla.


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