Loanwords and Calques

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A loanword comes more or less “as is” from one language to another. English abounds in them. For example:

Latin: agenda, index, memorandum

German: angst, blitz, bratwurst

French: accident, chef, fierce

Italian: concerto, pizza, scenario

Japanese: bonsai, haiku, karaoke

A calque [kălk] is an expression borrowed by way of literal translation from one language into another. For example:

blue-blood: noble birth — from Spanish sangre azul. “The veins of the pure-blooded Spanish aristocrat, whose ancestry contained no Moorish admixture, were believed to be bluer than those of mixed ancestry” (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).

Devil’s advocate: one who advocates the opposing side — from Latin advocatus diaboli). From the Roman Catholic canonization process in which reasons against canonization are presented by a designated “devil’s advocate.”

flea market, a place selling secondhand goods, from French marché aux puces. Perhaps from the idea that old clothing may contain fleas.

gospel, the teachings of the Christian New Testament. The literal meaning of the Old English word godspel was “good news,” a literal translation of Latin bona adnuntiatio, a translation of Gk. euangelion, “reward for bringing good news.”

masterpiece: “A work of outstanding artistry or skill” from Dutch meesterstuk, the work that proved that a craftsman was ready to be a master of his craft. German has Meisterstück.

wisdom tooth: The hindmost molar tooth on each side of both upper and lower jaws in man, usually ‘cut’ about the age of twenty — from Latin dentes sapientiæ, from Greek sophronisteres, from sophron “prudent, self-controlled.” Hippocrates called them that because wisdom teeth usually appear at adulthood (17-25 years).

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2 thoughts on “Loanwords and Calques”

  1. And then there is redingote–a loan word in English, borrowed from the French, who borrowed it from English in the first place (“riding coat”).

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