After Latin, and French, the English language expanded to include words from Russian (which we covered in the last section), German, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Sanskrit, and Yiddish, among others. The following represents a small sampling of words that have been embraced by English. Try to sound out each word and use the accompanying audio link to help you.

German soldiers and tanks move through a field.

Source: “Schlacht um Kursk, Panzer VI (Tiger I),” Friedrich
Zschäckel, Wikipedia


Language: German (“lightning war”)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary pronunciation:
\'blits- ,krēg\

How it’s used: A chief strategy of the German military in World War II, blitzkrieg warfare strikes were sudden attacks that moved quickly and constantly and kept the enemy off-balance with no time to respond. As a metaphor, blitzkrieg is sometimes used to describe any rapid attack that, because of its speed, makes a response almost impossible.

History: Although this term originated from two German root words and described a military strategy used by Germany, the word blitzkrieg may not be a German invention; its earliest recorded use is in Time magazine in 1939.

Example: Getting into an argument with Sally is conversational blitzkrieg; she knows all my buttons, pushes them as soon as she can, and never lets me speak!

A cat kitten struggles to free itself from a fishbowl, while a goldfish in the bowl chews on his tail.

Source: “HUBRIS,” Livemont, Flickr


Language: Greek

Merriam-Webster Dictionary pronunciation:

How it’s used: Hubris is a common trait of the protagonist (main character) in Greek tragedies. This character's hubris, shown through defiance or prideful actions against the gods, often results in a monumental downfall. Now hubris is used to describe arrogance, exaggerated pride, and extreme self-confidence, especially when prideful behavior leads to a downfall.

History:  In ancient Greece, hubris was considered a crime. Anyone outrageously abusing wealth or power might be accused of hubris.

Example: The businessman’s failure was brought on by his hubris. He considered himself far too important to be arrested.

The symbol for Recycling with the word “Karma”

Source: “Karma” graphic, Eponabri, Flickr


Language: Sanskrit (“actions” or “deeds”)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary pronunciation:
\'kär-mə also 'kər-\

How it’s used: A hard-to-translate word borrowed from Buddhism, karma implies “what goes around comes around,” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It assumes that good and bad acts have consequences, but we may not always experience them immediately or even in this lifetime. You might have heard of “good karma” and “bad karma”—good deeds or bad deeds that pile up a kind of energy that can come back to a person later.

History: The word karma was borrowed from Buddhism and brought to England in the 1820s by the Royal Asiatic Society. Before then, it evolved from the word for “to do” in Proto-Indo-European, the prehistoric ancestor of most European languages (including Latin, Greek, and French). Karma is echoed in the Greek-borrowed word “ceremony.”

Example: Angie believes that helping people in need will produce good karma.

Your Turn

For this next activity, the culminating activity, you will choose two words from the ones you have learned in this lesson and explore them more deeply. You will use a graphic organizer to record your answers, but first look at the following example and the word gulag.

Chart of the word Gulag with the definition, characteristics, examples and non-example

Gulag, a Russian word, is defined as “the penal system of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics consisting of a network of labor camps.” So if you write about gulag, your writing should contain these characteristics of the word:

Examples of gulags include the following:

If gulags are prison systems whose inmates are forced into hard labor, the non-examples would be other penal systems that aren't so harsh and aren’t types of labor camps. They could be modern prison systems or fair-and-just criminal systems. The non-examples must be close to the definition of a gulag but they won’t exactly match. One non-example of a gulag might include a rehabilitation facility that teaches job skills and provides counseling services.

Now it’s your turn to choose your two foreign words from this lesson and do the activity. Download the graphic organizer to record your responses and follow the directions. When you are finished, return to this lesson. If you get stuck, go to the Merriam-Webster website to see if you can find synonyms and antonyms to help you. Graphic Organizer Instructions

You have now completed the lesson on the origins and meanings of foreign words and phrases. Remember that when you come across a word with a foreign origin, which is likely since a majority of the words in the English language come from Latin or French, take time to look up the origin and meaning. It may be time-consuming and distracting to your reading at first, but your knowledge and fluency will increase with practice and experience.