5 Common English Words From Other Languages: Foods

Cultures borrow and exchange ideas, art, and –you guessed it-words! The English language is full of terms that are adapted or borrowed directly from other countries and cultures. Check out the following words and learn their linguistic origins.

This week, we’re looking at the names of foods. We’re guessing you consume at least one of these edibles on a regular basis. Check out where they get their names from!


Pucker up! This sour fruit originally gets its name from Arabic via Europe. Lemon comes from the French word, limon, which in turn comes from the Arabic word for citrus fruit, līmūn. Thinking about the origins, this may explain why lemon doesn’t phonetically stray too far from another familiar fruit, limes.


Be it fried, mashed, or baked, who doesn’t love a potato? While we might associate potatoes with Ireland, the word for potato comes from the Spanish word, patata, which in turn is derived from the Taino word, batata. Batatas referred to the sweet potatoes that were native to the Caribbean islands and that Christopher Columbus brought back to Europe. However, for quite some time, the word potato was used to refer to both sweet potatoes and white potatoes (white potatoes being discovered later in the 1500s by Spanish explorers). Eventually, potato referred specifically and predominantly to white potatoes, since this crop grew much more abundantly in the British Isles than did the sweet potato


The word for one of the world’s most popular hot beverages also comes from its country of origin: China! Tea was known by many names throughout Chinese history, but it is thought that the word tea comes from the city of Amoy, where Fujian dialects referred to the beverage as tê. Amoy served as a major port city, and through interactions with traders from all over the world, têeventually became tea.


Our favorite topper for fries comes from China. But the tomato sauce we love actually started out as fish sauce, which was called ke-tchup in Chinese Hokkien dialect. In the 17th century, the sauce made its way over to Europe via sailors who had taken a liking to its flavors. Folks began modifying the original recipe with a variety of local ingredients, and ketchup eventually came to refer to any sort of spicy sauce being served with a meal. It wasn’t until the 19th century that tomato became a key ingredient.


Punch is one the most popular go-to beverages for parties, meetings, and holiday gatherings. Punch is said to derive from the Sanskrit word, pañc, which means five. This might seem surprising until you learn that punch was considered the world’s first cocktail and consisted of five key ingredients (alcohol, sugar, lime, spices, and water). Punch was brought over to Europe by English sailors traveling from India. The first recorded use of the word punch appears in British documents from 1632.