19 English words that we stole from Spanish
English is a bit of a mongrel language. According to Joseph Williams (an English language researcher), about 40 percent of our lexicon comes from French, around a third is ‘native’ English and 15 percent comes from Latin.
All other languages combined contributed just 5 percent of our words. One of those ‘other’ languages is Spanish.
Whilst the impact of Spanish on English is much less than Latin or French, there’s certainly enough of an influence to keep us eagle-eared linguists interested.
From canyons to calderas and tornados to tangos, we’re taking a whistlestop tour through the linguistic influence of Spanish on English. Let’s get started.
The language of British fauna has quite an interesting history. You see, many animals in English have dual French and Anglo-Saxon variations. For example, cow/beef, sheep/mutton and deer/venison.
These variations typically arose because the Old English-speaking working class reared the animal and the French-speaking upper class ate them.
However, not all animal names came from French or Old English. Our names for a handful of exotic beasts come straight from Spanish.
Comes from el lagarto de Indias which means the lizard of the Indies. The Spanish original was first used by trans-Atlantic explorers when they arrived in modern day Florida.
Comes from mosquito which means little fly. We think that’s far too cute for such an annoying little beastie but there’s not much chance of changing it now!
Comes from barracuda which means, unsurprisingly, barracuda. (We didn’t say every word would all be interesting!)
Comes from armado which means armoured. It makes a lot of sense when you think about the scuttling suit of armour that is an armadillo!
From Dali to Dan Juan and Cervantes to Catalan, Spanish culture has spread across the world. Here is a handful of terms that made their way into the English language.
Comes from macho which originally meant male animal.
Comes from patio which in turn probably comes from super old Romance language Old Provençal.
Comes from aficionado which refers to a devotee of bullfighting. The English word has come to mean someone enthusiastic about a subject.
At its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spanish Empire stretched from the Falkland Islands in the west to the Spanish East Indies in the east. It was the first truly global power and boasted the first empire on which the sun never sets.
As such, a lot of our military terms — especially our nautical terms — come from Spanish.
Comes from armada which originally meant any armed force. Perhaps the most famous armada was Spanish Armada, a huge Spanish fleet that sailed on England in the 16th century with the intention of removing Elizabeth I from power.
Comes from flota which means a fleet of boats.
Comes from renegado which originally meant a Christian who converted to Islam. Renegade now means anyone who deserts or betrays a particular side.
Comes from vigilante which literally means watchman. In English, a vigilante is someone who enforces the law but does so without proper authority.
Food and Drink
Tacos, burritos, mojitos and tequila! Between Spain and Mexico, Spanish is the language of spicy, flavoursome food the world over.
Here are just a few highlights!
Comes from the Spanish for little donkey. We’re not entirely sure why it’s named after a small donkey but there you go!
Named after Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Anaya who is believed to have invented the dish in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras.
Comes from vainilla which means little pod.
Comes from chorizo which means chorizo. Yeah, we pretty much just stole the word verbatim.
Geography and Weather
As we mentioned above, the Spanish were particularly good at colonising large swathes of the world during the 16th and 17 centuries.
As they sailed and trekked their way across mountains, around lakes and through rivers, they inevitably gave Spanish names to the things they saw. Here’s a handful of examples.
Comes from caldera which means cauldron or kettle — pretty apt for a large volcanic crater!
Comes from cañon which means a pipe or tube. It’s a good job the Spanish language got involved as the Grand Pipe doesn’t have the same ring to it!
Comes from briza which means a cold northeast wind. In English, it came to mean any gentle wind.
Comes (with a bit of linguistic mangling) from tronada which means thunderstorm.
So, those are favourite 19 words in English that came from Spanish!
If you’re interested in how language develops, be sure to read out article on where words come from.