Write better, sound smarter, and enrich your vocabulary with these 10 words English borrowed from other languages

Schadenfreude? Faux pas? Eureka? Here are some English words with roots from other languages you may want to learn

Wong Tsui-kai |

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Many words in the English language don’t have roots in English at all, and are borrowed, taken, or wholesale stolen from other languages. Such “loanwords”, as they are described in linguistics, work their way into common use without translation. Understanding and using them will no doubt help you express yourself and add that extra panache (French, meaning style and flamboyance) to your speech when you want to sound fancy.

Kitsch (German)


Art that is cheesy, tacky, and in poor taste. But can also be a positive term where lowbrow art is appreciated in its own ironic way.

When to use it: Talking about visual art, design, or a copy of a painting of dogs playing poker.

Example: My dad painted all the doors in our flat gold. He thinks it looks nice, but it’s really kitsch.

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Schadenfreude (German)


To take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. And while English has many, many synonyms for joy and happiness, the feeling of laughing at others troubles is not one which can be said in a single word.

When to use it: Laughing at a friend’s small misfortunes in a joking manner.

Example: “Thinking that the Americans deserve Trump as a president sounds like Schadenfreude,” said our teacher.

Zeitgeist (German)


Directly translated, this means “spirit of the times”, zeitgeist refers to some type of defining quality or the cultural climate of a period in history, like the fervour that gripped the mainland in the Cultural Revolution.

When to use it: Looking back at history and talking about the big ideas and big events that influenced the culture of the times.

Example: The zeitgeist of the 1920s was highlighted by women’s liberation, the flappers, and money, money, money.

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Faux pas (French)


Literally “false step”, it means a social misstep or breach of etiquette, usually an embarrassing mistake.

When to use it: When one happens, it is less awkward to just politely ignore and not bring it up.

Example: The audience thought the show was over and began clapping. The conductor glared at them for the faux pas.

Aficionado (Spanish)


Used to describe a person as being very enthusiastic and/or knowledgeable about a certain subject, a fan of something.

When to use it: As a positive term, and as a classy way to say someone really enjoys their hobbies.

Example: Erica is our resident make-up aficionado. If you want to know anything about lipstick or eyeshadow, just ask her.

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Prima donna (Italian)


Once referring to the leading woman singer in an opera, the term has now evolved to a negative one, describing someone entitled and arrogant.

The word “diva” has similar roots and meanings, being originally an Italian word as well, and refers to the same type of demanding personality.

When to use it: The modern definition is the one most people will understand today, so it’s quite mean to use it as a descriptor, and can be taken the wrong way even if the person referred to is an actual singer in an opera.

Example: Joe is such a prima donna. He insists on being the last person to arrive at our meetings.

Vox populi (Latin)

[vox (like fox)-pop-you-lee/lie (like high)]

The vox populi or “voice of the people” means the opinion of most of people. In modern times, a “vox pop” is used on TV shows and in journalism to mean interviews with different people in the public.

When to use it: If a segment on TV comes up with the opinions of random people, you know what to call it.

Example: Young Post junior reporters did a vox populi on school uniforms over the holidays.

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Eureka (Greek)


Allegedly, the exclamation came when the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes figured out how to determine the purity of gold. They say the insight came to him as he was taking a bath and he ran naked in the streets shouting, “Eureka!” or “I found it”.

Nowadays, the so-called “eureka moment” is a term use to describe the moment when one solves or understands a difficult problem, and the joy from solving the task.

When to use it: Whenever you figure out the solution to a difficult problem. Just resist yelling it in an exam hall.

Example: I have tried to understand geometry but I’m still waiting for my eureka moment.

Kompromat (Russian)

[kom-prom-mutt ]

Short for “compromising material”, it means information one can use to blackmail other people, generally used regarding political figures.

Right now, the most common mention of the word is in relation to US President Donald Trump and rumours of the Russian government having kompromat on him.

When to use it: When discussing the news. (Young Post does not endorse blackmailing your political opponents.)

Example: Even though no one likes Sam, he became the head boy. It makes us wonder what kind of kompromat he has on the principal.

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Honcho (Japanese)

[hon chou]

Often used as “head honcho” in English, the word means boss or leader. The original Japanese term hancho means squad or group leader.

When to use it: Whenever you do a group project, feel free to nominate a leader and call them “honcho”.

Example: Billy was the honcho of our little gang and he came up with all the plans.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda