English is one of the most diverse, complex and ultimately inclusive languages in the world. It helps that English speakers are spread around the globe, picking up a few terms from other languages and making them part of our everyday vernacular. Here are some of the most common words or phrases you probably use that actually got their start in another language.
This popular acronym shows up on invites as a request to confirm whether you’re attending an event. If you’ve ever wondered what it stands for, it’s a French phrase, répondez s’il vous plaît, meaning “please reply.” The French don’t really use this term (or its abbreviation) anymore, but in English-speaking nations, it’s become common shorthand for events.
Another French word that’s supremely well-known in English is café (in fact, about half of the English language has roots in French and Latin). Dating back to the 19th century, this word still means coffee or coffee house.
Want something completed in a hurry? You may tell say “chop chop” to indicate speed when completing a task. This strong call to action is inspired by a Cantonese phrase, cuk cuk, or the Mandarin, k’wai k’wai. Word has it the phrase spread on 19th-century English ships that employed Chinese workers.
Thought the word we use to describe the little graphics on your phone was crafted in Silicon Valley? Think again – emoji actually comes from Japan. Its meaning is quite simple too: the “e” is commonly used around the globe to denote something electronic, while “moji” means letter or character in Japanese.
Yet another French fave, entrepreneurs are people who start their own businesses. In the 19th century, the French took the verb entreprendre, meaning to undertake, and started applying it to people who undertake or manage something. Naturally, the first application of entrepreneurs for the French was in the theater world, referring to stage or production managers.
This Italian-bred word is a well-known label applied to photographers who sell photos of celebrities and other high-profile individuals for money. The source of the word is appropriately starry: the 1960s film La Dolce Vita features a character named Paparazzo, a news photographer. The character’s name is inspired by an Italian word that refers to an annoying noise, like a buzzing mosquito – or a clicking camera lens.
Hailing from Germany, you’d call someone or something a doppelgänger if it was the spitting image of something else. The literal meaning couldn’t be clearer either – in German the word translates to “double-goer.”
Quite a few Yiddish words have made their way into English, including klutz, spiel and glitch. Bagel is a direct descendant of the Yiddish beygel from the early 20th century. But in a twist, that word also ties into the Middle High German böugel, meaning ring. This also draws on the Old High German bouc, with the same meaning. That’s a lot of history in one word!
If you’re looking to enjoy a brief rest or nap, you may go down for a siesta. Most people know this as a Spanish word, but the word’s origins go back to the Latin phrase, sexta hora, referring to the sixth hour. During the 17th-century, the sixth hour was counted from dawn, generally making mid-day the perfect time for a siesta.
This Sanskrit word means weighty or grave and is similar to the Latin gravis in both meaning and spelling. Either way, it makes perfect sense that this respectful word is applied to elders, teachers and wise mentors.
Italians have a flair for the dramatic, hence the creation of words like diva – applied to notoriously self-important and temperamental people. While it also has a more professional application when referring to female opera singers, most of us use diva when talking about our fussy cats or overdramatic bosses.
Kids around the globe often start their school years out with kindergarten, a German word literally meaning “children garden.” The term was coined by German educator Freidrich Frobel, who suggested we bring out the best in plants by studying them in an atmosphere that would enable them to grow – just as kindergarten is designed to help little ones’ brains develop before entering first grade.
Some internationally borrowed words slip through the cracks unnoticed, but the soft, hushed sounds of déjà vu definitely ring bells. This French phrase means “already seen” and is used in English to describe uncanny experiences with things we feel we’ve somehow already encountered (even if we haven’t).
This seemingly English word – referring to a strong desire to travel – is actually German and was first adopted in 1902. It comes from two German words: wandern (to hike) and lust (desire), though today German speakers would be more likely use the term fernweh, meaning farsick, AKA the antonym of homesick in English.
If you love to sing along to cheesy backing vocals, you’re taking part in the Japanese art of karaoke. The actual Japanese meaning is “empty orchestra,” but the term was introduced in its exact Japanese form when karaoke swept the nation in the back half of the 20th century.