Friday, November 07, 2014

What's the Ethno-Word?

Hi all (if anyone IS reading this - which I hope you are...)!

I know it's been a while since I've posted here.  With a lot of sometimes dramatic events happening, I have been putting more time into my other blog, The View From Here.  I hope you visit that also - there should be a link to the right.    :-)

Something has had me thinking off and on, though it's taken me some time to actually to a post about it.  I've noticed in some commercials, there have been some Spanish words used ---- and most everyone either knows what they mean or can easily figure them out by context.  So I've been thinking --- aren't there some words of African  origin we should know?  Most of us can probably come up with a few words of Spanish -  "muchas gracias", "hacienda", maybe.  There are French phases most people would know as common in our usage, for example: "au contraire", "carte blanche", "joie de vivre."  We even use many words borrowed or adapted from German: "angst" and "wunderkind" come up.  But what about words or phases of African origin?  

Now I'm gong go restrict myself in this context to Sub-Saharan Africa, leaving Arabic as another case (well they did give us Algebra and probably "coffee"!) for another discussion.  The ONLY one I could knowingly point to was "Kwanzaa" - the name of the December celebration (I've heard the precepts but am still a bit hazy on them exactly).  That word comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means 'first fruits.'

So I went online, of course, and did find quite a few.  Some I found may be debatable (like ok) and others I didn't think were quite so interesting.  So here are a few I thought I might bring to your attention:

okra  (yup, the veggie) - from the Igbo "okuru"
cola - from Temne "kola" or from Mandinka "kolo"
yam - probably from Fulani "nyami" or Twi "anyinam" via Portuguese
jumbo - possibly form Kongo "nzamba" (a word for elephant) or maybe Swahili "jambo" or "jumke"

Also probably: bogus - from Hausa - on one site, the author says a native Hausa speaker says the word in that language which it probably came from was "bogo" (elsewhere I saw it "boko-boko"

Want more?  The Wikipedia article is a good start.  From there maybe search on 'words of African origin' and start from there!

UPDATE:  How could I forget to mention some Native American words that have come into English?  How about:  moccasin (from one of the Algonquian languages), chipmunk (from Odawa language, and, believe it or not, barbecue (from an Arawakan language of Haiti via Spanish)!

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