The words we use in our English language and in our crosswords have been imported from the far corners of the world – if you can have corners in a round globe – because products and ideas need names and it’s easier to use a foreign word and anglicise it than to come up with a brand new word for something.
Similarly, we export many words too. In fact, words are the only product we can import and export without having to declare them at customs, or pay import tax on them. There are no controls to prevent words from crossing our borders, which has given us a rich and varied vocabulary to draw from.
When we look at the words we use from different languages, there seems to be a pattern or theme from each one: French is the language of lovers, with words such as femme fatale, billet-doux, fiancée and liaison; also the world of fashion – haute couture, chic and décolleté.
Italian is also a language of lovers, such as Casanova, lothario and inamorata as well as the language of music – prima donna, soprano, piano, opera, sotto voce and the good life – la dolce vita, la vita è bella and il dolce far niente.
Latin gives us many technical words and phrases in the worlds of science, religion, medicine and law as well as the systematic naming of the natural world of flora and fauna. Habeas corpus, homo sapiens, post mortem, anno Domini and so on.
German has given us terms used in psychology, such as angst, Weltschmerz and Gestalt, as well as military terms – blitz, flak and strafe. The Russian language has given us political terms – apparatchik, commissar, Bolshevik, intelligentsia, Gulag and troika.
Of course, all of these languages have contributed their food and drink terminology: French has given us cuisine, bon appétit, cafe, restaurant, éclair and hors d’oeuvre. From German we have delicatessen, frankfurter, hamburger, lager, pretzel and strudel.
From Italian we have chianti, pasta, espresso, pizza, al dente, alfresco and broccoli. From Russian vodka, pavlova and stroganoff. And so much more.
How lucky we are that we haven’t had to pay customs tax or overseas delivery charges on this huge foreign exchange of vocabulary, while adding colour and vibrancy to our English language.