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A History of English Words by Geoffrey Hughes (Wiley-Blackwell, 2000)


A word imported into one language from another language. Also called a borrowed word.

Following the Norman Conquest, during the period of Middle English (roughly 1100 to 1500), the French language contributed many loanwords to English. Over the past 1,500 years, English has adopted words from more than 300 other languages.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "A threefold distinction derived from German is applied by scholars to loan words on the basis of their degree of assimilation in the new host language. A Gastwort ('guest word') retains its original pronunciation, spelling, and meaning. Examples are passé from French, diva from Italian, and leitmotiv from German. A Fremdwort ('foreign word') has undergone partial assimilation, as have French garage and hotel. Garage has developed a secondary, Anglicized pronunciation ('garrij') and can be used as a verb; hotel, originally pronounced with a silent 'h,' as the older formulation an hotel shows, has for some time been pronounced like an English word, with the 'h' being sounded. Finally, a Lehnwort ('loan word') has become a virtual native in the new language with no distinguishing characteristics. Loan word is thus an example of itself."
    (Geoffrey Hughes, A History of English Words. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2000)

  • Code-Switching: Loanwords From Yiddish
    "By using a particular language, bilingual speakers may be saying something about how they perceive themselves and how they wish to relate to their interlocutor. For instance, if a patient initiates an exchange with a doctor in the doctor's surgery in Yiddish, that may be a signal of solidarity, saying: you and I are members of the same sub-group. Alternatively, rather than choosing between languages, these two people may prefer code-switching. They may produce sentences which are partly in English and partly in Yiddish. If foreign words are used habitually in code-switching, they may pass from one language into another and eventually become fully integrated and cease being regarded as foreign. That is probably how words like chutzpah (brazen impudence), schlemiel (a very clumsy, bungling idiot who is always a victim), schmaltz (cloying, banal sentimentality) and goyim (gentile) passed from Yiddish into (American) English. The fact that there is no elegant English equivalent to these Yiddish words was no doubt also a factor in their adoption."
    (Francis Katamba, English Words: Structure, History, Usage, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2005)

  • Luxury Loans From French
    "[One] reason why words are taken over from another language is for prestige, because the foreign term for some reason is highly esteemed. Borrowings for prestige are sometimes called 'luxury' loans. For example, English could have done perfectly well with only native terms for 'pig flesh/pig meat' and 'cow flesh/cow meat,' but for reasons of prestige, pork (from French porc) and beef (from French bouef) were borrowed, as well as many other terms of 'cuisine' from French--cuisine itself is from French cuisine 'kitchen'--because French had more social status and was considered more prestigious than English during the period of Norman French dominance in England (1066-1300)."
    (Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 2nd ed. MIT Press, 2004)

  • An Anglo-Indian Loanword: Loot
    "The word 'loot' . . . is interesting. It is an Anglo-Indian 'loan-word,' borrowed from the Hindi, from the vocabulary of tribes of hereditary thieves. It was first used in 1757, the year of the Battle of Plassey, in Orme's History. The looter was called, in Hindi, a 'looty-wallah'; thus, in 1782, J. Munro speaks of 'rascally looty-wallahs.'"
    ("The German Practice of 'Looting.'" The New York Times, January 1918)

  • "A tongue-in-cheek alternative to ringxiety is fauxcellarm, an ingenious blend of the French loan word faux, meaning ‘false,’ cell, from cellphone, and alarm, which when spoken out loud sounds similar to ‘false alarm.’"
    (Kerry Maxwell, "Word of the Week." Macmillan English Dictionary, February 2007)
Also Known As: borrowing word
Alternate Spellings: loan word, loan-word
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