Top 10 English Words of Turkish Origin

Top 10 English Words of Turkish Origin


Modern English borrowed many words from other languages, mostly from Old French, Old Norse (through the Vikings) and other Western European languages. There are quite a few maritime terms that were borrowed from Dutch for example. But some of these ‘loan words’ originated even further afield. When traders from distant shores came to Britain, not only did they bring their wares but also their vocabulary. In this blog you’ll find out the top 10 English words of Turkish origin.

10. Lackey

The word lackey made quite a journey before it arrived in English dictionaries. It was adopted from the French laquais, meaning ‘foot soldier or servant’. The French took it from the Spanish lacayo or from the Italian lacchè, but the original word is Turkish: ulak. It means ‘runner’ or ‘courier’.

9. Bosh

Bosh, as in ‘empty talk’ or ‘nonsense’, derives from the Turkish word boş. It literally means ‘empty’ or ‘unoccupied’ in Turkish. It was introduced to English through the novel Ayesha by James Justinian Morrier.

8. Horde

Horde derives from the Cumanian word orda. Cumanian was a Turkic language that was spoken in large parts of the Eurasian steppes during the Mongol invasions in the 13th century. It meant ‘encampment or palace of the Khan and his entourage’. In modern Turkish the word for ‘army’ is still ordu.

7. Caviar

Even though not all etymologists agree on the origin of the name for this extremely posh ingredient, there are also Greek and Venetian candidates for example, it is generally assumed that ‘caviar’ is derived from the Turkish word havyar. In Old Turkish it would have been written as chãviyãr, meaning ‘spawncarrier’.

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6. Jackal

Did you know that jackals also live on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, not only in America? They can still be found in rural areas in Turkey and have lived there for thousands of years. That’s why the word ‘jackal’ comes from the Turkish word çakãl. This word probably originated in a now extinct language: Sanskrit. Most likely the original word for jackal was śṛgālá, meaning ‘the howler’.

5. Kiosk

Again, we have the French to thank for the word kiosque. They in their turn borrowed it from the Italian chioso. Ultimately it stems from the Turkish word köşk. Köşk means ‘pavilion’, ‘villa’, but also ‘high and beautiful building’. A far cry from the grubby little stalls in train stations where you can buy a snack.

4. Yogurt

Yogurt derives from the slightly different Turkish word yoğurt, which is a derivative of the verb yoğurmak, meaning ‘to thicken’ or ‘to curdle’. The reason being that to make yogurt, milk has to be heated and stirred it until it reaches the desired thickness.

3. Bugger

Bugger used to be bougre in Middle English and came from the Old French word boulgre, which meant ‘heretic’ or ‘sodomite’. Before that the word came from the Latin word bulgarus and ultimately from the Old Turkish word bulghar. Not only did it mean ‘promiscuous’, it was also used as a derogatory word for people from Bulgaria, because they were eastern orthodox Christians and viewed as heretics. So ‘Bugger’ and ‘Bulgarian’ share the same linguistic ancestor.

2. Kebab

Kebab is probably the most used Turkish word after a night out. In most European cities kebab shops, or kebap in Turkish, have become a familiar sight. It is a relatively recent addition to the vocabulary, and it means ‘pieces of meat roasted on a skewer’.

1. Coffee

Coffee, our Turkish translators daily drink gallons of it, was introduced to the West in the 17th century by Ottoman traders. They called it kahve. It first arrived in the Netherlands where the Dutch took to it and corrupted the word into koffie. The British adopted this word and turned it into coffee. Originally though, coffee probably stems from Old Arabic and was called qahwa, which oddly enough means ‘wine’. Because drinking wine is prohibited in Islam, coffee as a substitute became known as ‘Islamic wine’. However, there are also linguists who claim that coffee ultimately originated from Kaffa, the name of an ancient province in Ethiopia where coffee beans were first grown.

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