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Spanish Words Become Our Own

Adopted and Borrowed Words Enrich English



Una alpaca. (An alpaca.)

Photo by Guido612; licensed via Creative Commons.

Rodeo, pronto, taco, enchilada — English or Spanish?

The answer, of course, is both. For English, like most languages, has expanded over the years through assimilation of words from other tongues. As people of different languages intermingle, inevitably some of the words of one language become words of the other.

It doesn't take someone who studies etymology to look at a Spanish-language Web site (or the Web sites in nearly any other language) to see how English vocabulary, particularly as it relates to technical subjects, is spreading. And while English now may be giving more words to other than languages than it is absorbing, that wasn't always true. For the English vocabulary today is as rich as it is largely because it accepted words from Latin (mostly by way of French). But there's also a small share of the English language that is derived from Spanish.

Many Spanish words have come to us from three primary sources: As you can hypothesize from the list below, many of them entered American English in the days of Mexican and/or Spanish cowboys working in what is now the U.S. Southwest. Words of Caribbean origin entered English by way of trade. The third major source is the names of foods whose names have no English equivalent, as the intermingling of cultures has expanded our diets as well as our vocabulary. As you can see, many of the words changed meaning upon entering English, often by adopting a narrower meaning than in the original language.

Following is a list, by no means complete, of Spanish loanwords that have assimilated themselves into the English vocabulary. As noted, some of them were adopted into the Spanish language from elsewhere before they were passed on to English. Although most of them retain the spelling and even (more or less) the pronunciation of Spanish, they are all recognized as English words by at least one reference source.

  • adios (from adiós)
  • adobe (originally Coptic tobe, "brick")
  • aficionado
  • albino
  • alcove (from Spanish alcoba, originally Arabic al-qubba)
  • alfalfa (originally Arabic al-fasfasah. Many other English words beginning with "al" were originally Arabic, and many may have had a Spanish-language connection in becoming English.)
  • alligator (from el lagarto, "the lizard")
  • alpaca (animal similar to a llama, from Aymara allpaca)
  • armadillo (literally, "the little armed one")
  • armada
  • arroyo (English regionalism for "stream")
  • avocado (originally a Nahuatl word, ahuacatl)
  • bajada (a geological term referring to a type of alluvial slope at the base of a mountain, from bajada, meaning "slope")
  • banana (word, originally of African origin, entered English via either Spanish or Portuguese)
  • bandoleer (type of belt, from bandolera)
  • barracuda
  • barbecue (from barbacoa, a word of Caribbean origin)
  • bizarre (some sources, not all, say this word came from the Spanish bizarro)
  • bonanza (although the Spanish bonanza can be used synonymously with the English cognate, it more often means "calm seas" or "fair weather")
  • booby (from bobo, meaning "silly" or "selfish")
  • bravo (from either Italian or Old Spanish)
  • bronco (means "wild" or "rough" in Spanish)
  • buckaroo (possibly from vaquero, "cowboy")
  • bunco (probably from banco, "bank")
  • burrito (literally "little donkey")
  • burro
Grammar Glossary
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