We need to report a robbery—by the English language.
English has been 'stealing' words from other languages over centuries. To be fair and accurate, words that are adopted from a different language with almost no modification are actually called loanwords. Although, I doubt we'll be giving them back any time soon.
James Nicoll, a Canadian blogger and freelance reviewer, described this behavior by the English language as follows:
"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
It sounds harsh but the evolution of English, more so than some other languages, has remained very fluid, allowing various words to be invented or added to the lexicon over time. Dictionary.com goes as far as claiming that 80% of words in the English language have a non-English origin.
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that English speaking countries never really had a formally recognized national academy to monitor the words that enter or leave the language.
Even though we've had a lot of foreign influence, English is definitely not the only language that does this. In fact there are quite a few words in other languages that don't have English equivalents.
Whatever the reason, you're probably peppering your speech with a ton of cool foreign words without even noticing. Most of them are anglicized, but some have stuck to the original. If you’re looking to expand your language knowledge, check out the Brainscape's foreign language flashcards for practically any language.
Below are 15 examples of cool foreign words that are commonly found in conversation (that will also make you sound totally smart), with language of origin and sample sentence, courtesy of How To Learn.
15 Cool foreign words we use every day
Many foreign phrases have taken their place in English speaking and writing. Here are some of the most common. For each phrase, the language from which it comes and its meaning in English is shown. The phrase is then used in a sentence.
From Latin meaning to a sickening degree. “Tom talked ad nauseam about the time he scored the winning run.”
From French meaning have a nice trip. “We all shouted ‘bon voyage’ as Rosa left for her vacation.”
From Latin meaning genuine. “Emma’s teacher was a bona fide expert in European history.”
From French meaning unlimited authority. “As the owner of the store, Mr. Williamson had carte blanche regarding what merchandise to sell.”
From the Latin meaning let the buyer beware. “I learned what caveat emptor meant the hard way when I bought a bike that never seemed to work right.”
From French meaning in a large group. “The fans left the football stadium en masse once the score became 42 to 0.”
From French meaning established fact. “Luis was disappointed, but his losing the election for class president was a fait accompli.”
From French meaning a social blunder. “Elizabeth realized too late that not attending Susan’s party was a faux pas.”
From Latin meaning by the fact itself. “A teacher, ipso facto, is in charge of his or her class.”
From Latin meaning method of operating. “My modus operandi when studying is to set very specific goals.”
persona non grata
From Latin meaning an unacceptable person. “Sally was a persona non grata in our club because she wouldn’t follow the rules.”
From Latin meaning a temperamental and conceited person. “Laura wasn’t popular with the other girls because they considered her to be a prima donna.”
From Latin meaning done or donated without charge. “The lawyer’s pro bono work with the homeless gave him a sense of personal satisfaction.”
quid pro quo
From Latin meaning something for something, usually an equal exchange. “Helping Ian with his math was quid pro quo for the time Ian helped me mow the lawn.”
From Latin meaning the existing condition. “Because he didn’t like change, Bert always tried to maintain the status quo.”
There is some confusion about whether foreign phrases should be italicized in English writing. There is no definitive rule regarding this. However, by convention, a foreign phrase should be italicized unless you have a strong expectation that your readers will know its meaning. This is a matter of judgment and it is safe to use italics when you write foreign phrases.
Expanding your language horizon
As you may have realized, many of these phrases are common in literature and everyday speech. Familiarizing yourself with cool foreign words doesn't only make you look cool, these phrases are necessary for understanding what you read.
It also provides a fascinating glimpse into the ever-evolving nature of language, and how it can change over time as history unfolds. Who knows what then English language will look like 50 years from now?
And in our ever-connected world, it's become as increasingly important to know only know cool foreign words in our language, but to learn foreign languages as well.
Whether you want to find a job with an international company that requires learning Spanish, chat to the family of your Brazilian boyfriend, or maybe just order a coffee and croissant in perfect French, speaking a foreign language can get you very far nowadays.
But we know that learning a new language isn't that easy. Otherwise, everyone would be speaking 6 or 7 languages! Luckily, Brainscape, the world's most effective foreign language flashcards app, has a complete toolkit and guide on the best way to learn a foreign language on your own.
Start learning today!