Can You Guess the Roots of These Common English Words?

EDUCATION

472 PLAYS

Isadora Teich

6 Min Quiz

Image: Pixabay / Pexels

About This Quiz

English is notoriously hard to learn as a second language. It has been famously described as actually being several languages wearing a trench coat. While native English speakers adhere to all of its wacky quirks and odd rules day in and day out without a second thought, there are actually a few important historical reasons why the English language is so tricky.  

Due to English being the language spoken by both colonial powers and conquered peoples historically, it has absorbed a lot of words from diverse and interesting sources. While English has similar roots as the German language, it absorbed a lot from Greek, Latin, Romance languages, and more in the old days. After all, even though English and German share similar roots, they are not all that similar anymore. 

For example, grammatically, German nouns can have one of three genders. In English, on the other hand, nouns have no innate grammatical genders at all. Also, while many languages that use the Latin alphabet use accent marks to help speakers properly pronounce vowels, English has very few of those. When speaking English, you just often just have to know the right way to say a word with no written cues. 

So, are you a language lover? See if you can guess the roots of these everyday English words with this quiz! 

Where does the word "brunette" come from?

It is estimated that up to about 30% of English words come from French. "Brunette" is one of those words. it comes from the French root "brun," which means brown. "Brunette" is the feminine French form.

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People around the world love to drink coffee. Where does the word come from?

The Arabic country Yemen was the first to export coffee, which they called "qahwah." Eventually, traders took coffee to Turkey where it was called "kahveh." Kahveh arrived in Europe for the first time in Italy, where it was called "caffe." In the 17th century, caffe arrived in England, where it became "coffee."

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The word "nightmare" has origins in which folklore?

In Germanic folklore a "mare" is a terrifying evil female spirit that sits on a person's chest while they sleep and suffocates them or gives them bad dreams. This is where the word "nightmare" comes from.

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Many people wear khakis to work, but fewer people know where this word originates. What language does it come from?

In English, the word "khaki" describes a yellow-brown color. Traditionally, it is fabric used in military clothing or pants. This comes from the Persian word "khaki," which relates to dirt.

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Which language does the word "antique" have its roots in?

Words like antique, ancient, antiquated and antiquity all relate to objects, eras or ideas that are old. They share a root in the Greek word "antiqua." This means antique or old in Greek.

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Where does the word "jungle" come from?

The word "jungle" in English refers to dense forest. It is actually a changed form of the 18th century Hindi word "jangala," which has its origins in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, "jangala" means rough terrain.

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The word "bible" has roots in which language?

There is a reason that words like "bible" and "bibliography" are similar. They share a root in the Greek word "biblos," which means "book." This root can actually be seen in other languages as well. For example, in Spanish, "biblioteca" means library.

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Would you bet $100 that you know where the word "centimeter" comes from?

Words like "cent," "centimeter" and "centennial" all share the Latin root word "cent." This meant one hundred in Latin. This is why a cent is 1/100th of a dollar and a century is 100 years in length.

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"Ethnic" has its roots in which language?

Words like "ethnic," "ethnicity,' "ethnocentric" and "ethnography" all share the same Greek root in the word "Ethnos." In Greek, "Ethnos" means race or nation. Ethnicity refers to belonging to a national or cultural group or tradition.

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Where does the word "animal" come from?

There is a reason that words like "animal," "animate," and "animation" look similar. They share the Latin root word "anim." Anim meant life or spirit in Latin. Animals are living and to be animated is to be lively.

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You can buy "bok choy" in most grocery stores in the US. Which language does the word come from?

"Bok choy" is a popular vegetable in stir fries. They come from the Cantonese language, which originated in China and is spoken throughout the world. These Chinese cabbages translate literally to "white vegetable" in Cantonese.

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Can you capture the queen by figuring out where the word "checkmate" comes from?

Chess is a popular game around the world, but it was actually invented in Persia. The word checkmate comes from the Persian word "shah-mat," which means that the king is helpless or stunned.

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Which language does the word "grateful" derive from?

Words like "gratifty," "grateful" and "gratuity" all share a common Latin root word. This word is "grat," which means pleasing. This is why when you gratify someone, you please them.

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Where does the word "chi" come from?

Chi is a Mandarin Chinese word that relates to classical Chinese medicine. It refers to the energy of an object, person or spirit. When this word was originally anglicized it was spelled "ch'i" or "qi."

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Bangles go in and out of fashion in the west, but which language does the word "bangle" come from?

A "bangle" is a rigid bracelet or anklet that is often circular in shape. This comes from the Hindi word "bangli," which translates literally to glass bracelet. This is a well-known Indian style of jewelry.

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The word fiancé comes from which language?

"Fiancé" comes from the Latin word "fidere," which means to trust. In Old French, this became "fiance," meaning "a promise." In French this became the verb "fiancer" which meant "to betroth," before becoming the word fiancé. This was added to English in roughly the 19th century.

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What language does the word "telephone" have its roots in?

Words like "telephone" and "symphony" all relate to sound and share a similar Greek root word. They come from the word "phone," which means sound. If you have ever used the word phone, you have kind of spoken in Greek!

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If you know where pistachios first grew, you will know which language the word comes from.

Pistachios grow on small trees that are native to the Middle East and Western Asia. The word pistachio actually comes from the Persian word "pesteh." As they traveled to different countries, including Greece and Italy, they got new names before becoming known as "pistachios" in English.

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The word "zoo" has roots in which language?

Words like "zoo," "zoology," "protozoa" and "zodiac" look similar because they share a root word. They come from the Greek word "zoon." This word means animal, which is why "zoology" means "the study of animals."

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Where does the word "algebra" come from?

Algebra was devised by early Arabic mathematicians. The word itself was used for the first time by Baghdad mathematician, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Experts think it entered the English vocabulary in the 15th century.

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Lemons are sour, but the word has deep roots in which language?

Some records show that Arab traders brought lemons from India to the Middle East, where they were called "laimun." The fruit found its way to Spain where it was called "limón" and spread across Europe with various names including the French "limon" and the English "lemon."

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The word "activity" has roots in which dead language?

Over half of all of the words in English have either Greek or Latin roots. English words like "activity," "action," "actor" and "acting" all share the same Latin root word. They come from the word "act" which meant "do" in Latin.

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Are you certain that you know where the word "certain" comes from?

The root word "cert" meant "sure" in Latin. This is why if you are certain of something you are sure of it. It is also why ascertain means to find out something for certain or for sure.

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You might wear pajamas every night, but do you know where the word comes from?

The English word "pajamas" actually has its roots in two separate Persian words. It is the Persian word "pa," which means foot or leg and the word "jama," which means garment combined.

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Which language does the word "spinach" come from?

Spinach actually originates in the country of Iran. The English word "spinach" is a corruption of the original Persian word for the leafy green "espinaj." While spinach comes from Iran originally, it is not one of the largest modern producers of it.

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The word "quarantine" was invented during The Black Death. What are its roots?

The word "quarantine" comes from the Italian word "quarantina," which means "40 days." This was the amount of time that ships were held in isolation before they could come ashore to Venetian lands during the height of the plague in Europe.

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Where does the word "hazard" come from?

The word "hazard," meaning danger, is thought to come from the dice used in Arabic gambling games in the 13th century, called "al-zahr." This was brought back to Britain by crusaders who learned about these games in the East.

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Which language does the word "disaster" come from?

"Disaster" comes from two old Greek words which roughly translate to "bad star." This is because the Ancient Greeks took astronomy very seriously and would blame misfortunes on the positions of the planets.

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The word "bungalow" comes from an Asian language. Can you guess which one?

"Bungalow" comes from the Hindi word "Bengla." This was a type of cottage that early European colonizers lived in in Bengal, which is in the northeastern part of India on the Bay of Bengal.

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The word "alcohol" originally meant something very different. Where does it come from?

"Alcohol" comes from the Arabic word "al kohl." Kohl was originally a fine powder or other material that was used as makeup around the eyes. Language experts are not completely sure how it transitioned to have the English meaning that is has now.

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The word "art" comes from which of these languages?

"Art" is a Latin root word which means "skill." This is why an artisan is a person who is skilled in a craft and an artist is someone who uses skills to create all types of things.

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Do you remember the root language of the word "souvenir"?

This word began as the Latin word "subvenire," which meant to occur to the mind. This evolved into the French verb "souvenir," which means "to remember." This verb is what became a common noun in English.

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Ketchup is an American staple, but where does it have its roots?

Ketchup began as a pickled fish and spice sauce in China called ke-chiap. It spread to Maritime Southeast Asia, where British explorers had it and brought it west. In the 19th century, this was transformed into tomato ketchup as we know it today by American businessman Henry J. Heinz.

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"Chronic" comes from which language?

Words like "chronic," "chronology," "chronological" and "anachronism" all come from the same Greek root word. This word is "Chronos," which means time. Over 60% of words in English have either Greek or Latin roots.

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The word "dentist" has roots in which language?

The Latin root words "dent" and "dont" both mean tooth. This is why your grandfather can wear dentures, a kid can be afraid of the dentist, and you can have an appointment with an orthodontist.

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