Borrowed Words Study Guide

Updated on Sep 20, 2011

Borrowed Words

This study guide focuses on words that originated in other languages but are now common in English.

English is a relatively young language, and has derived hundreds of thousands of words from older languages, principally Latin and Greek.

When words were borrowed from older languages and moved into English, they were anglicized—modified and adapted to English pronunciations and spellings. As a result, they aren't immediately recognizable as borrowings to anyone but linguists (people who speak several languages fluently); we think of the words as our own.

There are also many, many words from other, older languages that moved directly into English. Sometimes the pronunciation is modified slightly, but for the most part, these words were adopted as is, without significant changes. Some words feel so natural to us that it takes a moment to realize that they're technically foreign words. Others keep the pronunciation from their original language, and are therefore more easily recognized as foreign imports.

Knowing the meaning of many words and how to pronounce them is a sure sign of word power, your goal in reading this book!

Following is a list of words that are direct imports to English. You may already know some of them. Aids to their pronunciations are included to help you if needed.

Words From Foreign Sources

1. ad hoc (from Latin for for this). Something created right now, or improvised, for a specific purpose. Hurricane Katrina caused the ad hoc formation of citizen rescue teams.
2. ad hominem (add-HOHM-eh-nihm). (from Latin for to the man) An argument that attacks someone's character rather than attacking his argument, appealing to the emotions rather than the intellect. Political races are too often full of ad hominem attacks instead of debates on the real issues.
3. camouflage (KAM-uh-flaahj). (from the French for to disguise) Disguising for protection from an enemy, such as dressing to blend into the surrounding environment. Clothes designed with a camouflage pattern have become popular with young people, whether or not they plan to serve in the military.
4. caveat emptor (KAH-vee-aht em(p)-tor). (from the Latin for let the buyer beware) The concept that not all sellers can be trusted, so buyers should carefully judge the quality of what they buy before they pay. Flea market bargain hunters should remember the saying caveat emptor every time they think they've bought something for much less than it's really worth.
5. cocoa. (the Spanish name for the bean of the cacao tree) The powder ground from roasted cacao beans. Imagine our world without cocoa: if the Spanish hadn't come to the New World, no one in Europe or Asia would ever have had the pleasure of a cup of cocoa.
6. faux pas . (from the French for false step) An embarrassing mistake in manners or conduct. I made a terrible faux pas when I commented to my teacher that she seemed to have gained weight over the summer.
7. matinee (ma-tuh-NEH). (from the French for morning) An entertainment or performance held in the afternoon. We were so anxious to see that new comedy that we stood in line for the Saturday matinee.
8. objet d'art (ahb-zjay-DART). (from the French for object of art) A work of art, usually small; sometimes simply called objet or (plural) objets. My aunt owns a gift shop that specializes in antique French objets d'art.
9. pirouette (peer-uh-WET). (from the French for spinning top) In ballet, a complete turn of the body on the point of the toe or the ball of the foot. The ballerina amazed the audience with her ability to do multiple pirouettes in rapid succession.
10. pizza (from the Italian for bite). An open-faced baked pie topped usually with spiced tomato sauce, cheese, and other garnishes. Pizza is thought by many to have originated in the United States, but others point out that an early form of pizza was eaten by the ancient Greeks, who flavored their flat breads with herbs and onions as early as 500 B.C.
11. potpourri . (from the French for rotten pot) A mixture of dried flower petals and spices, kept in a jar for their fragrance; also, any mixture of assorted objects. Jasmine always keeps a vase of potpourri scented with jasmine in her room; for obvious reasons, jasmine is her favorite flower.
12. pro bono publico . (from the Latin for the public good) Something done for the public good without payment; often shortened to pro bono. Many lawyers contribute their services pro bono to help those who are unable to pay.


Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Borrowed Words Practice Exercises

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