Around the World in Words!   - By Robert Wilde

We’ve already had a look at how other nationalities and languages have contributed to English. Here are a few more which are interesting.

Good old American know-how. This is a tribute to American practicality and problem-solving skills. If there’s a problem, the Americans say, we’ll solve it one way or another.

People often ask about the differences between American and British English. The truth is that they have remained close because of the fact that American English has been influencing British English for nearly 100 years.

Television has been a major factor – and the cinema. It’s true to say that Brits understand American English from anywhere in the States. But the reverse is not true. Many Americans would not understand various British dialects and a good deal of British vocabulary. 50 years ago, a famous British film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning had to be subtitled in certain parts of the United States! The producers feared that the local American audiences would not understand a word of the dialect used in the film! No American film would suffer the same fate in Britain.

Let’s go over to Central America. A Mexican standoff is a struggle between two parties where there can be no winner.  In fact, both parties could lose. Think of two men with drawn guns facing one another. If both fire, both die. It’s a Mexican standoff.

Off in our linguistic time machine to India. English has the subcontinent to thank for hundreds of new words. A small one-storey house is known in Britain as a bungalow. This comes from a Hindi word meaning house. The word has a new slang meaning in English – a bungalow is a man with no brains. Why? He’s got nothing upstairs!

Kharma, guru, cheetah, chit (a small written note)… search the Internet and you will find hundreds more.

From Japanese we have tycoon and shogun, both meaning important businessmen; hara-kiri meaning suicide; sushi and sashimi, both popular dishes; karaoke; origami, the art of paper-folding; kimono; geisha girl – the list is long.

Kung fu fighting is a form of combat from China; kowtow is common in British English at least – I’m not kowtowing to you!’ means ‘I do not accept your authority over me! Typhoon is a much feared storm at sea.

If you want to know the meaning and origins of a word, and would like to know American and British variants, then the best dictionary is the Meriam-Webster, easily accessible on the Internet.

You may find that your language has contributed to English!

Here are a few words you can look up. They all have an international flavour!

A Portuguese man-of-war

Siamese twins

Brussel sprouts

Mandarin orange

Russian roulette


Rhodesian ridgeback

A Pekingese

A Chihuahua .....

You’ll find it’s very good fun to find out where English words come from!

Robert Wilde

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