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English: Our borrowed language

18 paź 2011

This is a guest post written by Alice Cuninghame on behalf of St Georges International. For students keen to learn English, learn French or learn German London language school SGI provides a great mix of top-class teaching and facilities and a vibrant social programme.

Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw, capital of Poland. Photo by Henri Sivonen.

English is often referred to as a ‘mongrel’ language. It borrows words from other languages shamelessly, sometimes keeping them as they are, sometimes adapting them to make truly English words.

English has its roots in the Germanic family of languages, which includes German, Dutch and most of the Scandinavian languages. Unlike those languages, it borrows heavily from others outside the ‘family’. For historical reasons, French and Latin have had a particularly strong influence on English over the years.

More surprising is that English borrows some words from distant Poland. Increasingly, Polish borrows from English too. That is less surprising, given the worldwide domination of the English language, and the large numbers of Polish migrants heading to the UK in recent years.

Read more for some examples of Polish words in English!

Loan words

The accepted term among linguists and language students for these borrowed terms is ‘loan words’.

Loan words can sometimes be transported straight from one language to another with no changes. At other times they may have the same sound, but a changed spelling. Sometimes they come via another language.

The river Thames in London
The river Thames in London. Photo by John Goode.

Loan words are sometimes translated, with the loan word using the syntax of the native language and the vocabulary of the host language. The term ‘loan word’ is one of these: it comes directly from the German term lehnwort and is often written ‘loanword’, following the German tendency to construct single words from multiple ones.


As with any language, Polish tends to borrow many words from English. These include technology-related words such as komputer. Conversely, few people would be able to think of many Polish-to-English loan words, but they do exist. Some Polish words lent to English include:

Horde (Horda): This word is common to several European languages, including Polish, Turkish and Spanish, so its exact origin is unclear, but it is thought that Polish probably had some hand in bringing it to English.

Gherkin (Ogórek): Brought to English via the Dutch word gurken.

Intelligentsia (Inteligencja): Although it is strictly a Russian word (originally from the Latin), intelligentsia first came into common usage in Poland during the nineteenth century, from where it passed into English. It was used by Polish philosopher Karol Libelt in his writing to describe the political, social and cultural elite in Poland. Libelt proposed what he called a ‘progressive intelligentsia’ in his country. Today, the word is regularly used in English, especially by political and social commentators.

Polack (Polak): This word simply means ‘Polish man’ (the female equivalent being Polka). However, the word became corrupted, and it is often used as a pejorative English term for Polish people, particularly in the US.

Food words: As Poles made their way across the world to English-speaking countries, they introduced their foods. In the US, where there is a long history of Polish immigration, many of these words are well established (though not regularly used in British English). They include: kielbasa, a type of Polish sausage; and pierogi, a type of dumpling.

Do you know any other words from Polish that made their way into English? Write a comment!

Portret użytkownika David Snopek

Ach, fajnie! Jest nawet więcej przykładów w tym artykule. :-) Dziękuję bardzo za linka.


Posted by: David Snopek | wtorek, październik 18, 2011 - 15:13
Portret użytkownika Anonymous

Yes, there are many slavic borrowings in English! I've heard the word "Polack" in English, but i did not have clue that it has a pejorative meaning

Posted by: English Editing (niezweryfikowany) | czwartek, kwiecień 12, 2012 - 05:59

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