Check Out These Spanish Loanwords Pronto

Friday, May 203 min read

The modern English language is a conglomerate of other languages. While we get plenty of words from Latin and French, a lot of English’s loanwords (words that are adopted from another language with little to no modification) are from Spanish. Some have been adopted from European Spanish, while others (especially in American English) come from Mexican, Central, or South American Spanish. Work your way down this list to learn more about how these Spanish-language words were adopted into English.


The Spanish word armadillo means “little armored one,” a fitting name for this mammal with bony plates surrounding its body. The word was derived from the Latin armado, meaning “armored.” There are 20 species of armadillo found in Latin America, but only one is also located in the United States. The word “armadillo” has been used in English since at least 1570.


The English word “banana” comes from the Spanish word banana (likely borrowed from Portuguese) to describe the tropical plant and its yellow fruit. In some countries, la banana is interchangeable with el plátano (plantain), a tropical fruit that is very similar to a banana. For example, Mexico and Chile use plátano to describe a banana, but in Argentina, they’re bananas. Visitors, don’t fret — native Spanish speakers will know both words.


In English, a “cafeteria” describes a large dining room, typically at a school or business, with counter service. In Mexican Spanish, la cafetería is a coffee shop or a snack bar. The word was adopted into English in the mid-1800s.


Chocolate” is the same in both English and Spanish. It comes from Mexican Spanish, derived from the much earlier Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, who made some of the earliest versions of chocolate. Their word, chocolātl, referred to chocolate mixed with water, ātl.


These wild canines are native to North America, from Canada to Mexico. The Mexican Spanish word coyote was adopted into American English in the late 1700s. Like so many Mexican Spanish words, it came from an earlier Nahuatl word for the mammal, coyotl.


Hammock” has been used in English to describe hanging beds since the mid-1600s. It came from the Caribbean Spanish word hamaca. It is believed that the Caribbean Spanish word came from the word for “fish nets” in the Arawakan language of the West Indies.


The English “hurricane” is an adaptation of the Spanish huracán. It was adopted into English in the mid-1500s after the Spanish and Portuguese explorers encountered these dangerous storms and needed a word to describe them. It was also likely originally adapted from an Arawakan word.


Although the oregano plant is native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia, English adopted its word for the herb from Spanish orégano in the mid-1700s. Also known in English as wild marjoram, the Spanish borrowed from the Latin word for the herb, origanum.


The word mosquito fittingly translates from Spanish to “little gnat.” It was a diminutive of mosca, meaning “fly,” and has been used in English to describe these pesky blood-sucking insects since the mid-1500s.


Plaza” describes a town square or open space in both English and Spanish, but the Spanish version came first, when it was commonly used in Spanish and Spanish-American cities. “Plaza” was adopted into English around 1830 and has retained its same meaning.


Pronto” is a good descriptor for something that has to be done without delay. It was first used in English around 1850, copied from the Spanish pronto, meaning “ready, prompt.”


From the early days of cowboys and cattle fairs, rodeo was first used in Spanish to describe a “pen for cattle at a market.” The word literally meant “a going round.” By the mid-1800s, it was used in English to refer to a cattle round-up, and by the early 1900s, it took on its modern meaning of a public performance, often involving a bucking bronco or two.


Tomato” comes from the Spanish word tamate, which describes the same edible plant. In the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, the word tomatl meant “the swelling fruit.”


Another Spanish-inspired word in the English weather lexicon is “tornado.” It came from the Spanish word for a thunderstorm, tronada. Sometime in the 1550s, navigators began using the word ternada (likely from tronada and tornare “to turn” in Latin) to describe violent storms in the tropical Atlantic. The modern word "tornado" (used to describe destructive funnel-like clouds and storms) has been used in the U.S. Midwest beginning in 1849.


This Mexican native plant was named vainilla (little pod) in Spanish, describing both the orchid plant and its fruit. “Vanilla” was then adopted into English in the mid-1600s to describe the flavoring extracted from the pods of the plant.

Featured image credit: pawopa3336/ iStock

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