October 28, 2011

Words of the Month - Borrowed Fantasy

        One of my favorite things about the English language is how we don't just borrow words from other languages - we adopt them.  We bring them into our family, embrace them, and love them as our own until we don't even remember where they came from.  No doubt I'll be doing more posts on borrowings over time, because it's such a rich topic, but today I'll share the exotic origins of a sampling of words that the fantasy genre just couldn't do without.
        Let's start with words that might be found in Dungeons & Dragons, where many an older fantasy geek was first immersed in the world of magic…
magic, bronze - Avestan  (Middle East)
ceremony - Etruscan  (Europe)
shaman - Evenki  (Asia)
bard - Gaelic  (Europe)
rogue - Sinhalese  (South Asia)
horde - Polish  (Europe)

        Do you like high medieval fantasy?
saga - Icelandic  (Europe)
chivalry - Norman French  (Europe)
saber - Hungarian  (Europe)
crusade, pilgrim - Provençal  (Europe)
ebony, ivory - Egyptian  (Africa)

        How about Star Trek and sci fi?
trek - Afrikaans  (Europe/Africa)
robot - Czech  (Europe)
technology - Greek  (Europe)
orbit - Latin  (Europe)

        Angels and demons and assorted monsters and beasts?
cherub - Akkadian  (Middle East)
paradise - Avestan  (Middle East)
abyss - Sumerian  (Middle East)
Dracula - Romanian  (Europe)
vampire - Serbian  (Europe)
zombie - Kongo  (Africa)
yeti - Tibetan  (Asia)
sasquatch - Salish  (North America)
jaguar - Guarani  (South America)
shark - Maya  (Mesoamerica)
anaconda - Tamil  (South Asia)
piranha - Tupi  (South America)

        A few more words, perhaps for horror or urban fantasy…
geek - Dutch  (Europe)
tattoo - Tahitian  (Pacific)
bizarre - Basque  (Europe)
taboo - Tongan  (Pacific)
cannibal - Carib  (South America)
bludgeon - Cornish  (Europe)
fog, kidnap - Danish  (Europe)
voodoo - Ewe  (Africa)
juju - Hausa  (Africa)
ninja - Japanese  (Asia)
berserk - Norse  (Europe)

        And finally, what would fantasy be without
purple - Phoenician  (Middle East)
map - Punic  (Middle East/Africa)
chocolate - Nahuatl  (Mesoamerica)
                   How else will you recover from an encounter with Dementors?

        Did you know where English got all those wonderful fantasy words?  Forty languages from all around the world are represented here.  Some of the words come from languages that are long extinct, living on only in their words that have passed into other languages.  Some words are recent enough borrowings that most people still recognize their foreign origin.  I hope this list gives you a new appreciation for the wonderful diversity of the English language - and for the human tendency to embrace fantasy wherever we find it.

[Pictures:  Magical Symbol, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008 (commissioned for a not-yet-published fantasy novel by a friend of mine)
Ninja, "Kuni Ghika wood block print," (not sure what that means!) 19th century (Image from Live Auctioneers.)]

1 comment:

Pax said...

Fun! I knew some of the derivations, but not all of them. I'm intrigued by "bludgeon", in Cornish. There must be close Welsh and Breton equivalents? Then there is a plethora of fantasy-theme words from Irish Gaelic. I'm happily staying tuned....