Using words from a foreign language adds a certain je ne sais quoi to yours. There’s a worldliness to the conversation when you throw them in, assuming you don’t make some kind of faux pas by using them incorrectly. Sure, they may sound a little forced, which might require a mea culpa and give away your modus operandi, but often it’s the mot juste — and who cares about the opinions of the hoi polloi anyway? Oh, you’re calling me out for trying to cram too many into a few sentences? Touché.
Yes, you guessed it, the point of that paragraph is just to show off that English vocabulary includes many words borrowed from other languages. It can be interesting to see which ones make a lasting impact on the English language, and the best way to do that is to look in the dictionary.
In the last year, Merriam-Webster added a selection of loanwords to their dictionary, which represent languages and ideas from all around the world. You can check out the list of words and definitions below. We enlisted our crack didactics team to give insights on the histories of these words, where they come from, and how they’ve made the journey into English. We also added some recent uses of these words so you can see them in action.
Merriam-Webster Loanwords of 2017
rounded balls of cooked rice with savory fillings (such as mozzarella cheese) that are coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried
First Known Use: 1948*
Insight: The Italian word means “little orange” (orange being arancia) and derives from the shape and color, which are similar to an orange. In some parts of Sicily it is even called arancina, the feminine form of arancino, which actually corresponds to the correct diminutive.
Recent Use: “Snacky spuntini like arancini and prosciutto bomboloni have been added to a refined Italian menu.” — The New York Times, October 2017
a Korean dish of rice with cooked vegetables, usually meat, and often a raw or fried egg
First Known Use: 1977
Insight: Borrowed from the Korean phrase pibimpap, from pibim which means “hash, chopped food” and pap which is “cooked rice.”
Recent Use: “At lunchtime, the stand serves bibimbap and rice cakes and bulgogi.” — Bon Appétit, August 2017
bokeh ˈbō-kā , -kə
the blurred quality or effect seen in the out-of-focus portion of a photograph taken with a narrow depth of field
First Known Use: 2000
Insight: The origin of the world lies in the Japanese word boke, which means “blur, lack of focus, unsharpness” and can also be used as a term for unclear thinking.
Recent Use: “Focos brings DSLR-like photography to your dual-camera iPhone with large aperture and real bokeh effect, which most photographers have always desired.” — BGR, November 2017
a small hybrid citrus tree (Citrofortunella microcarpa synonym Citrofortunella mitis synonym Citrus mitis) of warm regions cultivated chiefly as an ornamental; also: its small, tart, orange fruit resembling a mandarin or kumquat and yielding an acidic juice used especially as a flavoring agent or in beverages and marmalades
First Known Use: 1928
Insight: The name for this citrus tree in Tagalog is kalamunding, “calamondin” being an anglicization of the original Tagalog word.
Recent Use: “Calamondin is a type of tart orange, and its juice or extract is typically available in bottled and frozen form at Filipino markets.” — NOLA, August 2017
cane corso ˌkä-nā-ˈkȯr-sō
any of an Italian breed of large, muscular dogs having a short, dense, stiff coat and a large head with a short, broad, square muzzle and powerful jaws
First Known Use: 1834
Insight: While cane comes from the Italian for “dog,” the origin of the corso is disputed, with experts believing it to derive from the Latin word cohors (“guardian” or “protector”), from the ancient Greek word kortos (a walled or enclosed court), or from the same etymological route as Corsica (i.e. from that island).
Recent Use: “Tight end Anthony Fasano owns a great Dane and a cane corso, each of whom weighs almost as much as a kicker.” — Palm Beach Post, September 2017
(chiefly U.S. slang) used to ask if a message, warning, etc., has been understood
First Known Use: 1873
Insight: In informal situations in Italian, native speakers use Capisci?, with an “i” instead of an “e” at the end. Also, despite the slightly confrontational connotations in America, in Italy it is considered quite neutral and doesn’t have to be spoken in an aggressive way.
Recent Use: “Look, if you flood my house, you’re dead, out on the street. Capisce?” — Alvin and the Chipmunks, 2007
a small, rounded, moderately pungent chili pepper that is usually used dried when it has a translucent, dark red skin and loose seeds which rattle
First Known Use: 1639
Insight: In Spanish, cascabel translates to “small bell,” which is an allusion to the seeds rattling in the pods of this oval-shaped chili when dried. This is why rattlesnakes are called serpientes de cascabel in Spanish-speaking countries.
Recent Use: “No doctoring was needed for chilaquiles, a sumptuously saucy mash-up of stewed chicken, cascabel salsa and the same sturdy tortilla chips used for the nachos.” — The Seattle Times, November 2017
an annual herb (Salvia hispanica) of the mint family that is native to Mexico and Guatemala, has spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers, and is grown for its grayish, edible, mucilaginous seeds which are eaten whole or used especially to make a beverage or oil
First Known Use: 1832
Insight: The word comes from the Nahautl word chian which means “oily” and has its roots from the Mayan chiháan, which means “strong, strengthening.”
Recent Use: “What? I don’t want coffee cake. I’m still full from that chia seed I had last night.” — The Mindy Project, 2014
any of various small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages, email and social media) to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.
First Known Use: 1997
Insight: The Japanese symbols are 絵文字, with the characters meaning “picture,” “character” and “letter,” so it literally is a pictograph or ideograph, which is exactly how we use emoji today.
Recent Use: “I don’t speak emoji.” — Castle, 2016
froideur ˌf(r)wä-ˈdər , -ˈdœr
coolness or extreme reserve in manner
First Known Use: 1784
Insight: In French, the word refers to a cold atmosphere in a figurative sense, such as an attitude or a personality. It is rarely used as a literal synonym for “cold.”
Recent Use: “There’s no hint of formal froideur from the smiling young staffers, dressed in breezy contemporary uniforms by 26-year-old designer Hugo Matha.” — Condé Nast Traveler, September 2017
pate a choux ˌpä-tä-ˈshü
a very light dough used to make pastries
First Known Use: 1847
Insight: The pastries made by the French using this dough, which were filled with cream, were referred to as choux, or “cabbages,” which they resembled in shape.
Recent Use: “I’ve always thought the name shortchanged the dough, since pâte à choux is the key to a universe of pastries.” — The New York Times, May 2017
a medium-sized, multipurpose kitchen knife of Japanese origin that has a lightweight blade with a straight or slightly curved cutting edge and a spine that curves downward to the tip
First Known Use: 1993
Insight: The origin lies in the Japanese phrase 三徳, which describes the three (“san”) virtues (“toku”) in buddhism — valor, wisdom and benevolence. In the culinary sector, the “three virtues” referred to are the knife’s cutting techniques of slicing, dicing and mincing.
Recent Use: “So do something really nice for yourself and buy an 8-inch chef’s knife, not a rinky-dink 6-incher or one of those neat-looking Japanese Santoku blades” — Men’s Health, November 2017
a losing streak (as in sports) U.S. slang
First Known Use: 1969
Insight: The phrase is a shortening of the word schneider, a term originally used in the card game gin, meaning to prevent an opponent from scoring any points. Schneider has its roots in German, where it means “tailor.” Apparently, the original sense was that if you were “schneidered” in gin you were cut, as if by a tailor, from contention in the game.
Recent Use: “The Memphis Grizzlies finally got off the schneid on Monday night.” — Yahoo! Sports, November 2017
sriracha sə-ˈrä-chə , sē- , nonstandard srə-
a pungent sauce that is made from hot peppers pureed with usually garlic, sugar, salt and vinegar and that is typically used as a condiment
First Known Use: 1984
Insight: The popular hot sauce is named after the town of its origin Si Racha, Chonburi Province of Thailand.
Recent Use: “Sriracha? Beer? That’s all? What kind of diet is that?” — Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., 2014
*The “First Known Use” is the date of the earliest recorded use in English, as far as it could be determined, of the oldest sense defined in the dictionary entry at Merriam-Webster.com. Explore all words first recorded in a particular year with Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler.