English Loan Words from Asia
March 17, 2016

Written by Rion


We tend to regard English as a European language as it has borrowed most heavily from the languages of Europe. However, it has also acquired many loan words from Asia. When the British began to trade with the Indian subcontinent and the Far East, it was necessary to find words for many things never before encountered, whether they were foods, plants, animals, clothing, or events. Many words that were borrowed from Asian languages as a result of trade no longer seem foreign, having been completely assimilated into English, and the process continues today. I hope you will enjoy reading about the surprising origins of some commonly used English words.
1. Bungalow
The term originated in India, deriving from the Gujarati baṅgalo, meaning "Bengali" and used for a "house in the Bengal style". This Asian architectural form and design originated in the countryside of the Bengal region in South Asia. Such houses were traditionally small, one-storied and detached, and had a wide veranda. The term was first found in English from 1696, where it was used to describe "bungales or hovells" in India for English sailors of the East India Company. Later it became used for the spacious homes of officials of the British Raj where it initially had high status and exotic connotations.
2. Brainwashing
From 洗腦 (xǐnǎo) (where 洗 literally means "wash", while 腦 means "brain", hence "brainwash"). This term came about after the Korean War, when 24 of the American troops held in a Chinese Prisoner-of-War camp chose to stay in China after the ceasefire rather than return to the United States. Members of the American media couldn't believe that these young men would willingly decide to stay in China rather than return home, and so they picked up on the Chinese word which literally means "brainwash" to describe what -- a then new concept in American culture -- was the only possible means of explaining that behavior.

3. Admiral

Amīr al-bahr ("commander of the sea") was a title Arabic-speaking Muslims used when they controlled the now Italian island of Sicily. After the fall of the Emirate of Sicily, the Normans in Sicily continued using this title in a Latinized form, which was successively adopted by the medieval Genoese and French. As the birthplace of seafaring, it makes sense that this word came from what is the present-day Arab world.

4. Tea 

Te is from the Amoy  of southern Fujian province. It reached the West from the port of Xiamen (Amoy), once a major point of contact with Western European traders such as the Dutch, who spread it to Western Europe. This pronunciation gives rise to English "tea" and other similar words in other languages, and is the most common form worldwide.

5. Typhoon

The Oxford English Dictionary cites several Oriental words from Persian and Chinese giving rise to two early forms in English: touffon (from Persian) and tuffoon / tay-fun (from Chinese). The Persian source is the word tūfān ("storm"; also Arabic ṭūfān, "to turn round") from the verb tūfīdan (Persian: "to blow furiously"). The Chinese source is the word tai fung (simplified Chinese: 台风; traditional Chinese: 颱風; pinyin: táifēng), cited as a common dialect form of Mandarin  "big" and fēng"wind".

6. Zero 
The word zero came into the English language via French zéro from Italian zero, an Italian contraction of the Venetian zevero form of Italian zefiro via ṣafira or ṣifr. In pre-Islamic times, the Arabic word ṣifr had the meaning "empty". Sifr evolved to mean "zero" when it was used to translate Sanskrit śūnya from India, a concept invented around the 7th century. The first known English use of "zero" was in 1598.

7. Gung Ho
The term is an adjective used to describe someone that is overly excited or too enthusiastic. It has its origins in the Chinese word 工合 (gōng hé), a shortened word for industrial cooperatives which were created in China in the 1930s. During that time U.S. Marines adopted the term to build up the same sort of working spirit seen in China where all the soldiers dedicated themselves to one idea and worked together to make that idea a reality. It is used to refer to someone with a can-do attitude.

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