Education & Training

Imported Words In The English Language And Their Usage

by Dr. Shanthi Thomas

The English language is notoriously full of words loaned from other languages. English speaking people use these foreign words so freely that they often forget that they are originally from other languages. Read on to see a few of the very commonly used English words that are actually from foreign languages.

1. faux pas (pronounce /ˌfəʊ ˈpɑː/)

This phrase is borrowed from French and refers to an action or a remark that causes embarrassment because it is not socially acceptable. A faux pas is a social mistake that is not usually very serious or harmful to anyone physically, but makes people uncomfortable.

Usage:

I committed a big faux pas at last night’s dinner. I kept offering the grilled chicken to Mr. Norman, completely forgetting that he is a pure vegetarian!

2. modus operandi (pronounced /ˌməʊdəs ˌɒpəˈrændiː/)

This phrase is from Latin. Modus operandi means ‘method of operation’.

Usage:

My modus operandi for preparing for exams is to revise one month before the exam.

3. rendezvous (pronounced  /ˈrɒndɪvuː/)

A rendezvous is either a place where people arrange to meet, or the action of meeting someone (often secretly) at a specific time.

Usage:

My boyfriend turned up late for our rendezvous at the plaza and I got mad at him.

4. Delicatessen (pronounced /ˌdelɪkəˈtesn/)

The word delicatessen comes from German. A delicatessen (abbreviated “deli”) is an informal restaurant where you can get coffee, sandwiches, and other small foods. The root word in German is Delikatessen, which means “fine/fancy foods,” but in English it just refers to the place where you can buy those foods.

Usage:

Delicatessens are going out of fashion in New York, as many people prefer more formal restaurants.

6. rucksack (pronounced /ˈrʌksæk/)

A rucksack is another word for a backpack. The first part of the word ‘ruck’ comes from the German root word Rücken which means ‘back’.

Usage:

I prefer to travel even to faraway places with just a rucksack.

7. glitch (pronounced /ɡlɪtʃ/)

The word ‘glitch’ comes from Yiddish language. A glitch describes a minor problem, but usually it can be remedied, so it does not interfere with the completion of the task at hand.

Usage:

Apart from a few technical glitches, the presentation went very well yesterday.

8. klutz (pronounced /klʌts/)

The word klutz comes from the Yiddish language. A klutz is a person who is very clumsy or uncoordinated and may often break things or have accidents.

Usage:

My cousin Sharmaine is a real klutz. This morning she broke three glasses and a bowl while cleaning the kitchen!

9. spiel (pronounced /spiːl/)

In German and Yiddish, the word ‘spiel’ means ‘play’,  but in English it is used to refer to a quick speech or story which has usually been said/narrated many times. Often the spiel tries to convince the listener of something.

Usage:

My uncle John is an exponent of conspiracy theories. Last night during dinner, he did his whole spiel about how the American Government is controlled by aliens!

10. schmooze (pronounced /ʃmuːz/)

The word schmooze has its origins in Yiddish and Hebrew. It means to talk to someone in a friendly and lively way, usually in order to impress them and gain some benefit for yourself.

Usage:

It is common to see the graduate students schmoozing with the professors to get in their good books.

11. ninja (pronounced /ˈnɪndʒə/)

This widely popular word is from the Japanese language. In Japanese, it means “spy”, but in English it is used to refer to a person who can move and attack silently, without being noticed. In modern times the word has come to be used to refer to someone who can do something incredibly well, especially in technological fields.

Usage:

My friend Sam got a job as a programmer right after his graduation. Of course I am not surprised. He has always been the coding ninja of our class.

12. gung-ho (pronounced /ˌɡʌŋ ˈhəʊ/)

This word is originally from Chinese, in which it means ‘work together’. However, in English it is used informally to express that one is enthusiastic or excited about something. It is generally used as an adjective.

Usage:

I was really gung-ho to eat sushi, but the Japanese restaurant was closed, so we had to be satisfied with fish and chips.

13. bona fide (pronounced /ˌbəʊnə ˈfaɪdi/)

This word is originally from Latin, and means ‘genuine’ or ‘real’.

Usage:

You can believe whatever Mr. Cuthbert tells you about medieval history. He is a bona fide expert.

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