Words don’t come easy

Read on to find out about some English words that were not English to begin with, and their brief history of origin....

By US Desk
February 03, 2023


The majority of the words used in modern English have been borrowed from other languages. Most of English vocabulary comes from Latin and Greek, often by way of other European languages, so even English words that come from other languages like French or German are sometimes originally Latin anyway; they were Latin first, then became French or German and then they became English. English has also borrowed words from more than 300 different languages around the world.


Read on to find out about some English words that were not English to begin with, and their brief history of origin.

Disaster (noun)

Origin: Italian/Greek

According to Oxford Dictionary, disaster is an unexpected event, such as a very bad accident, a flood or a fire, that kills a lot of people or causes a lot of damage.

The word disaster has been passed around Europe like a hot potato. The English version is most closely tied to the French désastre, which is derived from the Old Italian disastro, itself derived from Greek. The pejorative prefix dis- and aster (star) can be interpreted as bad star, or an ill-starred event.

The ancient Greeks were fascinated by astronomy and the cosmos, and believed wholly in the influence of celestial bodies on terrestrial life. For them, a disaster was a particular kind of calamity, the causes of which could be attributed to an unfavourable and uncontrollable alignment of planets. It’s therefore interesting to note that the strict, modern English definition of disaster explicitly stipulates that a disaster is human-made, or the consequence of human failure.

Jeans (noun)

Origin: Italian

The word jeans, is defined by Oxford Dictionary as a type of strong cotton cloth that is usually blue and is used for making clothes, especially jeans and denim jacket.

The invention of jeans is commonly attributed to Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss, the etymology of the popular garment is actually of European origin. The fabric Strauss used for his patented, mass-produced trousers was first produced in Genoa, Italy and Nimes, France. The French word for Genoa is Gênes, and the name ‘jeans’ is likely an anglicization of the material’s city of origin. Similarly, the word ‘denim’ most likely comes from de Nimes, meaning ‘from Nimes’ in French. The material of modern-day denim jeans is vastly different from its predecessor. Denim was coarser, more durable and of higher quality than the toughened cotton corduroy manufactured in Genoa.

Cappuccino (noun)

Origin: Italian/German

Cappuccino, according to Oxford Dictionary, is a type of coffee made with hot frothy milk and sometimes with chocolate powder on the top.

The word cappuccino is the diminutive form of the word cappuccio, which means ‘hood’ in Italian. Cappuccino was named after the Capuchin Monks, whose hooded habits were a dark, oak brown similar to the colour of a good cappuccino.

The first recorded use of the word was in 1790 in Vienna, Austria. Wilhelm Tissot jotted down a recipe for an exquisite Kapuzinerkaffee (Capuchin coffee), which was rather different in constitution to its modern-day successor, containing sugar, cream and egg yolks. The current, somewhat simplified recipe now consists of espresso and foamed milk, but there are still parts of Austria where you can order a good ol’ Kapuziner.