Important Words to Know: Spelling Review Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Important Words to Know: Spelling Review Practice Exercises

A large percentage of English roots come from Latin. Latin forms the basis of many of the languages spoken in the Americas and Europe, a group of languages that is collectively known as the Romance languages. The Romance languages include Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan, a language spoken in a small European country called Andorra and parts of Spain and Italy. Although many of our words are derived from Latin, English is officially considered a Germanic language because of its grammatical structure. Still, if you've ever taken Spanish, French, or Italian, you know that Romance and Germanic languages share a lot of similarities.

Most people stopped speaking Latin regularly around the 1600s. It is still studied by many scholars and spoken in select circles—members of the Catholic Church, for instance, often use Latin in ceremonies and readings—but it is not the primary means of communication for any country or group of people on earth. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as a "dead" language.

By contrast, English is very much alive. In 2007 alone, more than 100 new words and phrases were added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary, including smackdown (the act of bringing down an opponent) and ginormous (ridiculously huge). In this chapter, we'll be taking a look at words that have come into English from a variety of sources, including foreign words, old words that are being used in new ways, and brand-new words that are just joining the language.


Although all English words were originally derived from other sources, certain words have been adopted into the English language directly from other languages without any changes. Often, we have taken these words because there are no English words that carry the same meaning. Other foreign words are used in writing about history or politics. Twenty commonly used foreign words and terms are defined below.

aficionado n. a person who likes, knows about, and is devoted to a particular activity or thing. Jonelle has been a baseball aficionado ever since she went to her first game with her dad.

amigo n. friend. My amigo Carl goes to school on the other side of town.

blasé adj. boring as a result of overexposure. This movie seemed exciting at first, but it became blasé after the third car chase.

bravo int. great job. Bravo! Well done!

bourgeois adj. showing excessive concern for materialistic goods. Pete's bourgeois values leave him always wanting more.

cliché n. a phrase or saying that has been overused and, as a result, has little significance. The lyrics to this song are full of meaningless clichés.

connoisseur n. one who knows a lot about a certain subject. Fernando is a connoisseur of cheese.

coup de grâce n. the final triumph. The Pistons' final coup de grâce was a game-ending fourth-quarter dunk.

debut n. a first appearance. The tennis player was nervous about her professional debut.

déjà vu n. the feeling that one has been in a situation before. I had a sensation of déjà vu when I saw my younger sister wearing my old jacket.

entrepreneur n. a person who starts his or her own business. Being an entrepreneur can be risky because you never know if you will be successful.

facade n. a false front. I thought John had gotten over his dog's death, but I learned later his happy face was just a facade.

incognito adj. or adv. with one's identity concealed. The singer didn't want to be recognized at the restaurant so she went incognito.

laissez-faire n. a policy opposing government control of economic matters except in the case of maintaining peace and the concept of property. He believed in a laissez-faire system in which he was free to spend his money on anything he wanted.

malaise n. a feeling of mental unease or discomfort. There was a general malaise at the school after our baseball team lost the playoffs.

naïve adj. innocent, simple, lacking knowledge of the world. I told him he was naïve to think that he could pass the test without studying.

non sequitur n. a statement that has no connection to the previous statement or idea. The politician started out talking about the homeless problem, then launched into a non sequitur about his vacation in Alaska.

passé adj. out of fashion. Tight jeans are so passé this year.

rendezvous n. meeting or v. to meet. We decided to rendezvous at the swing set during lunch.

spiel n. talk given for the purpose of luring an audience or selling a product. The salesman's spiel made the vacuum cleaner seem more impressive than it really was.

vendetta n. a grudge or feud characterized by acts of retaliation. The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic adventure story about a falsely imprisoned man who carries out a vendetta against his captors.


BY THE YEAR 2050, it is estimated that 30% of the United States population will be descended from families with roots in Spanish-speaking countries. For people who study languages, the rise of the Hispanic and Latino populations offers a unique opportunity to explore what happens when two different languages come together. In many communities around the country, a mixture of Spanish and English known as Spanglish is becoming increasingly common.

Spanglish is not recognized as an official language in the way that Spanish and English are. It is a combination of Spanish and English by people who speak both languages fluently and are able to switch between them effortlessly. A typical Spanglish sentence might begin in English, switch to Spanish in the middle, and end back in English. It is often spoken by second-generation immigrants (the children of people who moved to the United States from Spanish-speaking countries) who are used to speaking one language at home and another language at school.

No one knows whether Spanglish will develop into its own language or if it will fade away in future generations. Although it may not exist in the same form as it does today, there is no doubt that the combination of English and Spanish will continue to have an important effect on the language we speak.

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