English is a wonderful language – not better than any other, I would never say that! Because it has borrowed so many words from other languages almost anything has several synonyms which could be used. There are many reasons why this is so, up until 1066 we had many waves of invasion, different tribes had moved across continental Europe and ended up on what we now call Britain when we were still connected; gradually we became an island but that didn’t stop ‘visitors’! Celts, Romans, Angles and Saxons, Danes and Vikings… and Normans… and after 1066 we had people coming to trade, to visit, to marry, to be soldiers… and in turn British people went to other countries and brought back not just goods and spoils of war but words too. My dad Donald was in Italy during the war, and he used a lot of Italian words, latte, and luce for example.
We owe Arabic a debt for all the words it has given us: admiral, albatross, alchemy, caliber, cipher, cotton, gauze, gazelle, ghoul, lime, lute, magazine, orange, soda, talc, and the actual concept of zero!
I don’t want to enter into the debate about our past Empire, except to say it happened and influenced our language. Look at some of the words we got from India:
- atoll, avatar
- bandana, bangle, bazaar, , bungalow
- cashmere, catamaran, cheroot, cheetah, chintz, chutney, cot, cummerbund, curry
- dinghy, dungarees
- G – guru, gymkhana
- H – hullabaloo
- J – jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute
- K – khaki, kedgeree
- L – loot
- N – nirvana
- P – pariah, pashmina, polo, pundit, purdah, pyjamas
- S – shampoo, shawl, swastika
- T – teak, thug, toddy, typhoon
- V – veranda
- Y – yoga
Now we have an enriched culture from the peoples from the Indian subcontinent who live here, and they too have brought words – a lot of them to do with our favourite curry dishes – and the ingredients and herbs and spices that go into them!