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111 English Words That Are Actually Spanish

Spanish and English have been trading vocabulary (and culture) for centuries.
111 English Words That Are Actually Spanish

Thanks to the popularity of Mexican cuisine around the world, there are plenty of Spanish words in English that you probably use daily: taco, tortilla, quesadilla, tequila and so on. But you may be surprised to learn that there are hundreds more Spanish words hidden in English. In fact, English has been borrowing from Spanish for a very long time.

Present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and Utah (plus parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming) were all part of Mexico until they were ceded to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. Although the change in sovereignty meant a massive influx of English speakers, it also meant that thousands of Mexicans living in the region suddenly became Americans.

Even earlier, in 1819, Spain ceded their Florida colony (which included parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) to the United States. As a result of a centuries of shifting borders, Spanish and English have had numerous opportunities to rub off on each other. Here are just some of the Spanish words that you probably use every day.

State Names

  • California — a mythical island from the 1510 Spanish novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.
  • Colorado — “red-colored” (referring to the color of the river that is the state’s namesake).
  • Florida — “flowery”
  • Montana — from montaña (“mountain”)
  • Nevada — “snowy”
  • New Mexico — an anglicization of Nuevo México.
  • Texas — the Spanish adopted the word tejas from the language of the indigenous Cado people. It means “friends” or “allies.”
  • Utah — derived from the name of the indigenous Ute people, by way of Spanish yuta.
  • Arizona — from Spanish Arizonac, itself an adoption of the word alĭ ṣonak, meaning “little spring,” from the local O’odham language. Alternate etymology may be the Basque haritz ona (good oak).

Cities

  • Buena Vista — “good view”
  • El Paso — “the pass”
  • Fresno — “ash tree”
  • Las Vegas — “the meadows”
  • Los Angeles — a shortened version of the older name, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciúncula River”
  • Monterey — “king’s mountain”
  • San Antonio — “Saint Anthony”
  • San Francisco — “Saint Francis”
  • Santa Cruz — “holy cross”

Cowboy Vocabulary

Nothing’s more American than a cowboy, right? Well actually, the first people to herd cattle on horseback in North America were the vaqueros who introduced the ancient Spanish equestrian tradition to the Southwest. Their name is derived from vaca, the Spanish word for — you guessed it — cow.

  • buckaroo — anglicization of vaquero
  • corral — “pen” / “yard”
  • chaps — chaparreras: leg protectors for riding through chaparral
  • desperado — desesperado (“desperate”)
  • hackamore — a kind of horse bridle taken from the Spanish jáquima (“halter”)
  • lasso — lazo (“tie”)
  • quirt (a short horseman’s whip) — a short horseman’s whip from the Spanish word cuarta (“quarter”)
  • ranch — rancho (“a very small rural community”)
  • rodeo — from rodear (“to go around”)
  • stampede — from estampida
  • 10-gallon hat — from Spanish tan galán (“so gallant”), or possibly galón (“braid”)

Geography & Weather

  • arroyo — “stream”
  • breeze — from brisa (“cold northeast wind”)
  • caldera — “cauldron”
  • canyon — cañón (“pipe,” “tube” or “gorge”)
  • mesa — “table”
  • playa — “beach”
  • sierra — “mountain range”
  • tornado — from tronada (thunderstorm)

Animals

  • alligator — el lagarto (“the lizard”)
  • armadillo — “little armored one”
  • barracuda — possibly from barraco (“snaggletooth”)
  • bronco — “rough”
  • burro — “donkey”
  • cockroach — anglicization of cucaracha
  • mosquito — literally, “little fly”
  • mustang — mustango, from mesteño (“untamed”)

Arts & Culture

  • aficionado — “fan,” from aficionar (“to inspire affection”)
  • bodega — “cellar”
  • fiesta — “party”
  • macho — “the property of being overtly masculine”
  • matador — from matar (to kill)
  • patio — “inner courtyard”
  • plaza — “public square”
  • piñata — Mexican Spanish, from Latin pinea (pine cone)
  • pueblo — “small town,” derived from Latin populus
  • quinceañera — a celebration for a girl’s 15th birthday, from quince (“15”) and años (“years”)
  • quixotic — derived from the name of Cervantes’ famous, delusional knight Don Quixote
  • rumba — from Cuban Spanish rumba (“spree”), it was the name of a popular tango melody in the early 20th century and became a more general type of Cuban dance music
  • tango — this word comes to English from Argentine Spanish, but like originates from the Niger-Congo language Ibibio’s tamgu (“to dance”)
  • telenovela — “soap opera”

War & Conflict

  • armada — “armed,” from Real Armada Española (“Royal Spanish Navy”)
  • conquistador — “conqueror”
  • flotilla — diminutive of flota (“fleet”)
  • guerrilla — “small war”
  • renegade — from renegado (“turncoat” or “traitor”)
  • vigilante — “watchman”

Transportation

  • cargo — from the Spanish verb cargar (“to load”)
  • embarcadero — “boat dock”
  • embargo — from the Spanish verb embargar (“to seize”)
  • galleon — galeón, a large sailing ship with three or more masts

Food & Drink

  • burrito — “little donkey”
  • chorizo — “spiced pork sausage”
  • cilantro — “coriander”
  • daiquiri — named after Daiquiri, a port city in eastern Cuba
  • habanero — “from Havana”
  • jalapeño — “from Jalapa”
  • mojito — diminutive form of Cuban Spanish mojo (“sauce”)
  • nacho — named after Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who is purported to have invented the dish in 1943
  • oregano — from orégano
  • piña colada — from piña (“pineapple”) and colada (“strained”)
  • salsa — “sauce”
  • sherry — from Old Spanish Xerés, modern Spanish Jerez
  • taco — “plug”
  • tequila – named after Tequila, the Mexican district where the spirit originated
  • vanilla — from Spanish vainilla 

More Spanish Words In English

  • bonanza — “prosperity”
  • cafeteria — from cafetería (“coffee store”)
  • incommunicado — estar incomunicado (“to be isolated”)
  • jade — from piedra de ijada (“stone of flank”)
  • nada — “nothing”
  • platinum — from platino (little silver)
  • pronto — “hurry up!” in Mexican Spanish
  • savvy — from sabe (“knows”) and sabio (“wise”)
  • siesta — “nap,” originally from Latin sexta hora (“sixth hour”)
  • suave — “smooth,” sometimes “cool” in Latin America
  • adobe — from Spanish adobar (to plaster), from Arabic aṭ-ṭūb (“the bricks”)
  • cabana — from Spanish cabaña  (“cabin”)

Spanish Words In English That Are Actually Nahuatl

English isn’t the only language with a penchant for absorbing words from other languages. Many words that English has acquired from Spanish originally came from other languages, mostly those of native American populations that were subjugated by the Spanish colonial empire. Here are popular examples that entered English vernacular through the Nahuatl language in Mexico.

  • avocado — anglicization of Spanish aguacate, from Nahuatl ahuacatl
  • chili — chilli
  • chipotle — “smoked chili pepper”
  • chocolatexocolatl (“hot water”)
  • cocoa — Spanish cacao, from Nahuatl cacáhuatl
  • coyote — coyotl
  • guacamole — ahuaca-molli, ahuacatl (“avocado”) + molli (“sauce”)
  • mesquite — from Mexican Spanish mezquite, from Nahuatl mizquitl
  • mole — molli (“sauce”)
  • tamale — tamalli
  • tomato — Spanish tomate, from Nahuatl xitomatl
  • peyote — peyotl (“caterpillar”)
  • mezcal — from Nahuatl mexcalli
  • shack — Mexican Spanish jacal (“hut”), from Nahuatl xacalli
Want to learn even more Spanish words?
Author Headshot
John-Erik Jordan
John-Erik was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a suburb named after Tarzan (yes, really). He co-founded Babbel Magazine in 2014 and was its managing editor from 2015 to 2020. Most of his free time is taken up by unhealthy obsessions with science fiction, tabletop games and the Dodgers.
John-Erik was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a suburb named after Tarzan (yes, really). He co-founded Babbel Magazine in 2014 and was its managing editor from 2015 to 2020. Most of his free time is taken up by unhealthy obsessions with science fiction, tabletop games and the Dodgers.

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