About a decade ago, I wrote a small rant about peo­ple using wal­la instead of voilà. I even called such peo­ple lazy.

I apol­o­gize.

I used to be quite pre­scrip­tive in my approach to lan­guage. I’ve since real­ized that Eng­lish has always been an evolv­ing lan­guage. It cre­ates new words, adopts for­eign words, mod­i­fies for­eign words, reas­signs exist­ing words, and so on.

And this evo­lu­tion is unstop­pable.

Wal­la is not the only exam­ple of Eng­lish adopt­ing and angli­ciz­ing words from oth­er lan­guages. Let’s put aside the once pop­u­lar booy­ah (from the Span­ish bul­la) and look at a few words that most peo­ple con­sid­er stan­dard Eng­lish now.


This Eng­lish word comes from the French automne. Grant­ed, autumn is falling out of favour, and fall seems to be everyone’s favourite now.


Even though this word came to Eng­lish from the Span­ish or Por­tuguese, it prob­a­bly has African ori­gins, most like­ly from the Wolof word banaana. Speak­ing of Wolof, anoth­er Eng­lish word we bor­rowed from them was nyam, which became our yum/yummy.


This pop­u­lar pas­time derives its name from the Span­ish word bar­ba­coa, which itself is bor­rowed from the Taíno lan­guage.


Beef shares a sim­i­lar ety­mol­o­gy as the French boeuf, deriv­ing from the Old French boef.

Inter­est­ing­ly, Eng­lish has sev­er­al words with French ori­gins that refer to cuts of meat from domes­tic ani­mals. For exam­ple, pig becomes pork (porc), calf becomes veal (veau), sheep becomes mut­ton (mout­on), chick­en becomes poul­try (poule), and deer becomes veni­son (venai­son).


This unique­ly Eng­lish word evokes images of the Amer­i­can South­west, with its deserts, buttes, and orange vis­tas. Canyon, how­ev­er, is actu­al­ly an adap­ta­tion of the Span­ish word cañón. The tilde above the N caus­es the N to be fol­lowed by a Y sound.


What’s more anglo­phone than chow­der? Clam or corn chow­der from the east coast of North Amer­i­ca is pop­u­lar among Amer­i­cans and Cana­di­ans. But it’s like­ly a bas­tardiza­tion of the French word chaudière, which means caul­dron or pot, the ves­sel chow­der was orig­i­nal­ly cooked in. But you will nev­er find any­one cor­rect­ing a Mar­itimer, “Uh, actu­al­ly, it’s clam chaudière.”


Seri­ous­ly? Ketchup? The per­fect bar­be­cue condi­ment?

Yep. Ketchup—or cat­sup, as it’s called in some regions — actu­al­ly has Chi­nese ori­gins. Peo­ple speak­ing the Amoy dialect of Hokkien used 鮭汁 (pro­nounced as kôe-chi­ap or kê-chi­ap) to refer to a mix­ture of pick­led fish and spices. Eng­lish explor­ers even­tu­al­ly picked it up and mod­i­fied to the word we use today to refer to the sauce made from toma­to paste.


The main ingre­di­ent in such pop­u­lar treats as lemon­ade and lemon meringue pie may be Ara­bic in ori­gin, adapt­ed from the Ara­bic word for cit­rus: līmūn.


Pota­to is anoth­er Eng­lish word of Taíno ori­gins, com­ing from the Taíno word for sweet pota­to: bata­ta.


This word is an angli­cized form of sev­er­al words found through­out the Pacif­ic islands. For exam­ple, in Samoan, Tahit­ian, and Ton­gan, the word is tatau; and in Mar­que­san, it’s tatu. I actu­al­ly have 4 tat­toos myself.

I think I’ll stop at 10, but you can find dozens, if not hun­dreds or thou­sands, of words that have been bor­rowed from oth­er lan­guages than angli­cized to make it our own.

All this to say that maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on peo­ple who use wal­la. They might be ahead of the trend.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing and social media tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness. Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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