Languages borrow words from each other all the time. English is no exception. Some experts think up to 80 per cent of English consists of loanwords, that is, words borrowed from other languages. The following is just a short offering of the incredible variety of words borrowed into English over more than a thousand years.

1 Colonel

English can borrow the same word from two different places! ‘Colonel’ came from French in the 1500s, spelt and pronounced ‘coronel’. Later it was borrowed again from Italian as ‘colonello’. So now it is spelt the Italian way and pronounced the French way … more or less.

2 Taboo

This Polynesian word from Tonga came into English in the 1770s. It was first recorded in the journals of the navigator and explorer Captain James Cook, on one of Britain’s expeditions to discover, name and take over as much of the world as possible as its empire grew.

3 Fork

The Latin word ‘furca’ first entered English more than a thousand years ago as ‘forca’, meaning a farm implement. It changed to ‘forke’ and then ‘fork’. ‘Knife’ and ‘spoon’ are also more than a thousand years old, but they both come from northern European languages.

4 To strive

Borrowed from French in the early 13th century, this verb is very unusual in that it is grammatically strong or irregular, inflected as ‘strove’ and ‘striven’. Most borrowed verbs are weak, in the sense of typical ‘-ed’ endings in the past, such as ‘post’ and ‘posted’.

5 Potato

One of the most important words in English! It was borrowed in the middle of the 16th century from Spanish, ultimately from Taino, an extinct Arawakan language spoken in the Caribbean. The origins of ‘chips’ and ‘French fries’ are also very interesting!

6 Marmalade

An essential part of breakfast for many British people. Adopted from Portuguese in the early 16th century, it entered British eating habits due to the trading relations between Portugal and England.

7 They

A rare loanword in that it actually entered English grammar. The third person pronoun (plus ‘their’ and ‘them’) is a borrowing from Scandinavia, probably as a result of the presence of numerous Scandinavian settlements in Anglo-Saxon England.

8 Kindergarten

A class or school for young children, usually five-year-olds, the word came into English in the mid-19th century from German, meaning literally a ‘children’s garden’. It is completely distinct from a nursery, which is for kids before kindergarten age — and has nothing to do with nurses.

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9 Entrepreneur

Adopted from French in the 1870s, the word means a person who starts his or her own company and has a very creative attitude. Elon Musk is an example. President George W. Bush famously said: “The trouble with the French is that they don’t have a word for ‘entrepreneur’”.

10 Paparazzi

This word of Italian origin (the plural of ‘paparazzo’) only entered English in the 1960s. It sadly became well known in August 1997, with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

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