Foreign Loanwords and Loan Translations  

What are foreign loanwords and loan translations?

English takes many of its words from different languages around the world. These words are broadly known as borrowings, and they are subdivided into two categories: loanwords and loan translations.
A loanword is a term taken from another language and used without translation; it has a specific meaning that (typically) does not otherwise exist in a single English word. Sometimes the word’s spelling or pronunciation (or both) is slightly altered to accommodate English orthography, but, in most cases, it is preserved in its original language.
A loan translation (also known as a calque), on the other hand, is a word or phrase taken from another language but translated (either in part or in whole) to corresponding English words while still retaining the original meaning.

Foreign Loanwords

English is influenced by a variety of different languages, and, for that reason, it has a huge number of loanwords, many of which are so entrenched in the language that they are rarely even considered to be of foreign origin. In some cases, the meaning of the word when used in English is slightly different or more specific than in the language from which it is taken, but this is not always the case.
A huge amount of words now considered part of the standard English lexicon are technically loanwords from Latin, Greek, or French. Many of these borrowings occurred during the formative years of modern English, and have since been assimilated through changes in spelling and pronunciation into the words we use every day. There are far too many of these loanwords to go over individually. Instead, let’s look at some examples that best demonstrate how loanwords are borrowed without (or with very little) change in their original spelling, pronunciation, or meaning:
Loanword
Language of origin
Notes on spelling, pronunciation, and meaning
aficionado
Spanish
Literally “fond of,” in English it refers to an ardent fan, supporter, or devotee of some subject or activity.
amateur
French
In French, the term refers to someone who is a lover of some activity. In English, it is used to describe someone who engages in a study, sport, or other activity as a pastime rather than in a professional capacity.
angst
German
In German, Angst generally means “fear or anxiety”; in English, it is used to describe an acute feeling of nonspecific anxiety, anguish, or apprehension, usually without a discernible cause.
bacteria
Latin
Plural of the Latin bacterium, meaning “a small stick,” used to describe the appearance of bacteria when first identified in the early 19th century.
ballet
French
From the French ballette, literally “small dance,” referring to a theatrical, classical dance characterized by precise conventional steps and graceful movements.
café
French
In English, café (also spelled cafe, without the accent mark) only refers to a small restaurant in which one can buy food and drinks, usually coffee.
In French, café (itself a loanword from Italian caffé) primarily refers to coffee itself, rather than an establishment that serves it.
chow mein
Chinese
Adapted from Chinese ch’ao mein, meaning “fried noodles.” In English, it typically refers to a dish consisting of chopped vegetables and meat that is served with these noodles.
cookie
Dutch
Adapted from the Dutch koekje, literally meaning “small cake,” to refer to small, dry, usually crisp cakes made from sweetened dough.
delicatessen
German
Adapted from German Delikatessen, literally meaning “fancy food; a delicacy.” In English, it is used to refer to small shops or eateries, known especially for selling chilled, cooked meats. It is often shortened to deli, which is also used as an adjective to describe such meats.
et cetera
Latin
Literally meaning “and (et) the rest (cetera),” it is used more figuratively in English to mean “and other unspecified things of the same type of class” or “and so forth.”
faux pas
French
Literally “false step,” used in English to mean “a breach in decorum, etiquette, or good manners.”
haiku
Japanese
A type of poem that traditionally juxtaposes two disparate ideas or images in 17 on (Japanese sound units), separated in three phases of 5, 7, and 5. In English, on was translated to syllables, so haikus in English are typically written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively.
jungle
Hindi
An anglicisation of the Hindi spelling jangal, meaning “a desert, wasteland, forest, or uncultivated area.” In English, it refers to an area of dense tropical trees and vegetation.
kindergarten
German
Literally “child garden,” referring in both languages to a program or class for young children serving as an introduction to elementary school.
macho
Spanish
Literally meaning “male animal” in Spanish, in English it is used to describe a tough, masculine, or virile person, especially a man.
modus operandi
Latin
Literally “mode of operating,” it refers in English to a person’s standard method or manner of working (used in law enforcement to describe a criminal’s or suspect’s behavior).
noodle
German
Adapted from the term Nudel, with the same meaning (a thin, ribbon-like piece of pasta).
oeuvre
French
Literally meaning “work,” it is more commonly used in English to refer to the sum of work produced by a creative person (a writer, painter, composer, etc.) over the course of a lifetime.
orangutan
Malay
Literally meaning “man of the woods,” in English it refers to arboreal apes with shaggy, reddish-brown hair.
pajamas
Hindi
The Hindi term pajama originated from Persian payjama, which perhaps influenced the standard British English spelling, pyjamas.
patio
Spanish
In Spanish, this term refers to an inner courtyard of a house that has no roof. While it shares this meaning in English, it more often refers to a typically paved outdoor space adjoined to a house used for dining and recreation.
piano
Italian
In both languages, piano primarily refers to the musical instrument with a manual keyboard that triggers hammers to strike metal wires that then produce the sound. It is short for the longer Italian word pianoforte.
prima donna
Italian
Literally meaning “first lady,” referring to the leading female singer in an opera company. It is more commonly used in English to refer to a self-centered, temperamental, petulant person.
quid pro quo
Latin
Literally, “something for something.” In English, it is used to mean “something done in exchange or compensation for something else.”
smorgasbord
Swedish
Adapted from the Swedish term smörgåsbord, meaning “open-faced sandwich table.” It refers specifically to a buffet-style meal consisting of a variety of different dishes. By extension in English, it is used figuratively to describe a wide variety of different options or elements, as in, “The festival features a smorgasbord of musical talents.”
sombrero
Spanish
In both languages, this term refers to a broad-brimmed hat with a high crown.
tycoon
Japanese
Adapted from the Japanese term taikun, meaning “great lord, prince, or high commander,” a title used by foreigners when referring to the Japanese shogunate. In English, it was anglicised as tycoon, and it now means a wealthy, powerful, and influential businessperson or magnate.
umami
Japanese
Literally “tasty things,” this term refers to the savory taste sensation occurring in broths and meats.
vigilante
Spanish
Literally meaning “watchman,” it is used in English to refer to a person who pursues and punishes suspected criminals outside of the law.

Loan Translations (Calques)

While loanwords are used with little or no change to the spelling (or phonetic spelling) of the original word, loan translations are instead an idiomatic word or phrase that is translated literally into English, but used with the same or similar meaning as the original.
There are far fewer loan translations in English than there are loanwords, but there are still too many to include in this section, so let’s just look at a few common examples:
Loan translation
Language of origin
Original word or phrase
Notes on meaning
angel hair
Italian
capelli d'angelo, literally “hair of an angel”
Very thin, long pasta. In English, it is more commonly written as angel hair pasta.
brainwashing
Chinese
xi nao, literally meaning “wash brain”
“Calculated, forcible indoctrination meant to replace a person’s existing beliefs, convictions, or attitudes.”
commonplace
Latin
locus communis
Originally referring to a literary passage that is generally applicable, in modern English it simply refers to that which is ordinary, common, uninteresting, or unremarkable.
devil’s advocate
Latin
advocatus diaboli
This term originated in the Roman Catholic Church, referring to an official whose role was to deliberately argue against the canonization of potential saint, in order to expose any possible character flaws of the candidate or weaknesses of evidence in favor of canonization. In modern English, the term refers to anyone who argues against something either for the sake of argument alone, or to help clarify or determine the validity of the opposing cause (rather than due to personal opinions or convictions).
flea market
French
marché aux puces, literally “market of the fleas”
A type of informal bazaar consisting of vendors who rent space to sell or barter various goods or merchandise. The term is popularly thought to refer to a particular market in Paris known as the marché aux puces, so-called because most of the items being sold were of such age that they were likely to have gathered fleas over time.
it goes without saying
French
cela/ça va sans dire
This expression has the same meaning in English as it does in French, that is, “it is or should be generally understood or accepted as self-evident.”
let the buyer beware
Latin
caveat emptor
This axiom holds that the buyer is responsible for assessing the quality of goods or services before purchasing them. While this loan translation is a common cliché in English, the Latin term itself is also sometimes used as a loanword.
lose face
Chinese
tiu lien
The phrase means “humiliation” in Chinese, but in English it means “to do something resulting in the loss of status, reputation, or respect from others.” The related term save face comes from this meaning in English, rather than as a loan translation from Chinese.
masterpiece
Dutch
meesterstuk
Originally meaning “the work for which an artist or craftsman is granted the rank of master in a guild or academy,” it is used in modern English to refer to any creation that is considered a person’s greatest work or is of outstanding quality.
moment of truth
Spanish
el momento de verdad
The original Spanish phrase was used in bullfighting to describe the moment at which the matador makes the final, fatal sword thrust into the bull. In English, it more generally refers to a critically decisive or important moment that will test a person’s character or resolve, or determine the outcome of something.
New Wave
French
Nouvelle Vague
Originally a movement of French cinema in the 1960s, the phrase became popularised as a name for a certain style of music in the late 1970s and early ’80s, similar to punk rock but characterized by more melodic music and, often, the use of synthesizers.
rainforest
German
Regenwald
A dense tropical forest in an area of high annual rainfall.
rest in peace
Latin
requiescat in pace, literally “may he or she begin to rest in peace”
Said of someone who has passed away, and commonly written on tombstones.
wisdom tooth
Latin
dens sapientiae
One of the four rearmost molar teeth, so named due to their appearance at the onset of adulthood, usually between age 17–25.
world-view
German
Weltanschauung, literally “world perception”
An overall conception of life, the world, and humanity’s place therein.
Quiz

1. Which term refers to foreign words that are used in English without being translated from the original language?



2. The term calque is another word for to:



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