When I was reading the book Spanish Word Histories and Mysteries: English Words That Come From Spanish I learned the following fact about English-Spanish words:
After French, Latin and Old English, “Spanish is one of the most important ingredients in English vocabulary.”
I knew that there were Spanish words in the English language, but I was impressed to know that Spanish was in the top influencers. And what are the reasons?
1. The Spanish kingdom began conquering the Americas bringing new words such as plants, animals and environment adapted from indigenous languages to Spanish and then to English. For example: potato, mosquito and hurricane.
2. The maritime vocabulary was also well developed by Spaniards during the 1500’s, years before the British. Examples of those words are: cargo and breeze.
3. The area today known as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas was part of the Spanish Empire and later in the 1800’s became Mexican territory. For that reason, the cowboy vocabulary includes Spanish words such as: rodeo, canyon and mustang.
4. Recently Hispanics have become the largest minority in the United States resulting in the introduction of new vocabulary about our culture. For example: fajitas, merengue and salsa.
I identified some Spanish origin words that are relatively common in the English language. I grouped the words according to their similarity with Spanish and added a little history of the origin.
10 Easy English-Spanish Words You Can Add to Your Vocabulary Today
Here is the first set of English-Spanish words that can be identify as easy because they kept the same spelling when passing from Spanish to English. Please feel free to download and share this slide show I created as a visual aid.
1. cafeteria | cafetería
From the Mexican Spanish cafetería that is a “modest restaurant” according to the definition of the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary. Originally a cafetería was a place where coffee and other beverages were sold, but today it is also a restaurant or self-serving dining area.
2. caiman | caimán
With some differences, these tropical American reptiles look like alligators or crocodiles. Caiman comes from the word acayuman that was used by the Caribe tribes that lived in the tropical region of the Americas to refer to a type of “marine crocodile.” The Spanish who were conquering the new continent adapted the word as caimán and it was officially used in English the first time in 1577 in a work translated Spanish by John Frampton. Another English spelling is cayman, like in Cayman Islands.
3. chocolate | chocolate
From the Nahuatl language chicolātl used by the Aztecs to name a beverage made from ground cacao seeds. That conclusion was made by linguistics after a long time believing that the original Nahuatl word was chocolāt. The Spanish took the form chocolātl as chocolate and the word started appearing in the English language in the early 1600’s.
4. iguana | iguana
The Spanish word iguana comes from the Arawak language –iwana– spoken in the Antilles where this reptile is native. The word was first used in English by 1555 again by translating documents about the chronicles of the Americas.
5. mosquito | mosquito
In Spanish mosquito –that literally means little fly- is the diminutive of the word mosca (a fly) and it was used in English in the year 1572. Before that, the English word used for this biting insect was “gnat.”
6. oregano | orégano
The name of this Mediterranean herb has a Latin origin origanum that was used by Spaniards, among others in the region, as orégano. Then in the 1500’s the Spaniards found in Mexico a similar herb “that tasted and smelled remarkably like Mediterranean oregano” and they gave it the same name. Written records shown that the word oregano was first used in English in 1771.
7. patio | patio
The Spanish definition of patio is a roofless-closed area in houses and buildings, but in English can also refer to “paved spaces that adjoin a house.” It is believed that the Spanish word has a Catalan origin pati.
8. puma | puma
The word puma comes from the Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire. There are other names used in English for wild cat: catamount, cougar, jaguar, leopard, mountain lion and panther.
9. sierra | sierra
In Spanish the word sierra means “a saw” and also a chain of mountains “with jagged profile.” With that last meaning the word was borrowed from Spanish to English. The word sierra comes from the Latin serra.
10. tornado | tornado
This last word has the most curious of the origins because it morphs into English and then was picked back up again by Spanish. The story indicates that the word comes from the Spanish tronada that means “thunderstorm” that was took by English in the 1500’s but mispronounced as ternado. The word ternado was used to refer to any powerful storm – including hurricanes- and later associate with the verb in Spanish tornar or “to turn.” In American English the word ternado transformed to tornado to name “a violent destructive whirling wind accompanied by a funnel-shaped cloud that progresses in a narrow path over the land.” With that new definition, the word tornado was picked back by Spanish.
Don’t miss the Part 2: 12 ADDITIONAL STORIES ABOUT SPANISH WORDS IN ENGLISH
I will be featuring more sets of English-Spanish words in the coming weeks. The next group features 12 words whose spelling changed when borrowed from Spanish.
12 Additional Stories About Spanish Words in English
Check out these other English Spanish articles.