a selection of “borrowed” words
What’s a zuke, you ask? But maybe you don’t ask. Maybe, like me, you’re inclined to shorten long words and you, too, often refer to zucchini as zukes. Let’s face it, zuke is shorter, with one syllable instead of three, and it’s a whole lot easier to spell.
Mind you, zuke gives my automatic spellchecker little squiggly red fits, but that’s easily solved with a simple right click and a command to Ignore All. Better yet, in a fit of rebellion, I will click Add to Dictionary. The language police will accuse me of bringing on the end of civilization through the corruption of English. Oh yeah? Colour me rebel.
Of course, zucchini is hard to spell because it’s a word we’ve borrowed from another language. In Italian, it’s called zucchine and sounds a lot like the word we use in English, just spoken with an Italian accent.
English is notorious for borrowing (some call it stealing) words from other languages. In fact, you could run through the alphabet, simply on the topic of food and cooking, and find a “borrowed” word for just about every letter.
There’s avocado, from āhuacatl, a word taken from the language of the Aztecs and given a Spanish ending.
Under the letter B, it’s not fish stew, it’s bouillabaisse.
Something flaky? How about a croissant?
And so the alphabet cruises along with highlights popping up everywhere. There’s jujube, taken from Medieval Latin and referring to a date-like fruit, more recently applied to a candy. Pomegranate is another name that comes from Latin.
Talk about borrowed words that are hard to spell and you have to mention schnitzel. That’s altogether too many consonants for English comfort. Yet we use it all the same. Also tricky to spell are paella and radicchio, from Catalan and Italian, respectively. You’d think if we were at all clever about it, we’d try spelling these words in phonetic English. But no.
Getting closer to the end of the alphabet, we find vindaloo, from the Portuguese combination of wine and garlic, vinha d’alhos.
We didn’t even bother to create our own words to wish someone a good meal. Instead, it’s bon appétit! And someone who appreciates fine food is a gourmet. You know gourmet isn’t native English by the simple fact we don’t pronounce its t, an unthinkable transgression in any “true” English word.
I suppose we are being sensible when we adopt a word from another language. Why strain our brains for a totally new word when one is sitting right there for the taking. For example, we visit a new country and see a woman stir-frying supper in a strange, round-bottomed dish. We ask what it is and she says something that sounds like “wok.” Well, that’s easy enough. Wok it is!
Something in human nature resists change, but despite this resistance, our language changes constantly. We’ve dumped words like porknell, and belly-cheere. We’ve added words like chowhound and superfruit. Our language is like a toddler waddling across the floor, arms full of toys, who pauses to gather up a turquoise ball then drops a green locomotive while seizing a plush unicorn.
All these beautiful toys, all our lovely words, give us so much to play with. We can make puns like “A cashew is a nut with a cold.” We can impart vital information such as “I’m allergic to shellfish.” We can give voice to emotions like love with “Eat your greens. They’re good for you.”
Naturally, we grumble about the way English changes and takes on strange new words from exotic places, but we forgive it all the same. Language – whatever would we do without it?
Zukes! A boisterous pair of Lebanese zucchini.
It’s time to celebrate the completion of my Secret Window videos for children. Here’s the letter Z with zucchini, zest, zebra, zipper, and more.