Just as we’re all drawn to that gorgeous new love interest on a favorite telenovela, the English language is drawn to the Spanish language.
Unlike on the latest telenovela, the attraction is rarely shirtless.
Nonetheless, English has gotten a lot out of the relationship.
An awful lot of English-language words come directly from the Spanish language—and I’m not just talking about the ones you find on the menu at your local Mexican or quasi-Mexican restaurant.
So let’s nerd up and get our word origins on!
Why You Need to Know the Hidden Spanish Origins of English Words
You study and study and study, and over time, you learn plenty of types of vocabulary.
Food words? Check.
Travel phrases? Check.
Restaurant words? Check (please).
Heck, you may even have picked up some business vocabulary and romantic words along the way.
But there’s one huge source of vocabulary you may not yet have fully utilized: your native language. If you speak English (and chances are you do, since you’re reading this), you already know plenty of great words that originated from the Spanish language.
So why learn the Spanish origins of English words? So nice of you to ask. Well, there are two main reasons:
- Expand your Spanish vocabulary quickly. Learning new vocabulary can be downright boring. You can try all the tricks you’ve learned, but at a certain point, you just have to repeat a word until you have it down. It takes energy and a lot of time. But when you already know an English-language word that stems from a Spanish word, learning the Spanish word will be that much easier. This will help you learn these words much more quickly and retain them forever.
- Understand English better. English is an amalgam of words from different languages. Learning word origins will help you better understand this true nature of English. And if that isn’t enough, you’ll feel super smart when you watch a spelling bee and the topic of word origins comes up. An English-language word that originates from Spanish? You’ve got this!
70 English Words with Spanish Origins
We have a huge list for you here! But if you want to find even more examples of English borrowing from Spanish, all you have to do is give some authentic FluentU videos a watch.
US Location Names
Despite rumors to the contrary, this isn’t Spanish for “arid zone.” Instead, the name Arizona was derived from the Spanish name Arizonac, which was in turn derived from an O’odham phrase meaning “small stream.”
The name California originated in the 1510 book “Las sergas de Esplandián” (“The Adventures of Esplandián”). In the adventure story, California was a remote kingdom inhabited by only women. The name came from the name of their queen, Calafia. Her name may have come from the Spanish word califa, which came from the Arabic word khalifa, referring to a religious state leader.
That’s a complicated name you got there, California.
While the state itself derived its name from the Colorado River, the river got its name from the Spanish word colorado, meaning “red.”
Florida in Spanish is an adjective meaning “flowered” or “flowery.”
The name Montana comes from the Spanish word montaña, which means “mountain.”
Though you’d never guess it from the bright lights and vast deserts in this state, the Spanish adjective nevada means “snowy” or “snow-covered,” and as a noun it means “snowfall.” It was named for the snow that blankets the mountains in winter.
The name Texas originated from the Spanish word Tejas, derived from a Caddo word for “friends.”
8. Puerto Rico
In Spanish, puerto means “port” while rico means “rich,” so this name literally means “rich port.”
9. Los Angeles
Ever wonder why Los Angeles is called “The City of Angels”? There’s an easy answer: The Spanish phrase los ángeles means “the angels.”
10. Las Vegas
Las Vegas means “the meadows”—and you’ll be skipping through them if you hit the jackpot!
11. “San” anything
The Spanish word san means “saint,” so any city that begins with San is just “Saint” something. For instance, San Diego is the Spanish name for Saint Didacus of Alcalá, and San Antonio is the Spanish name for Saint Anthony of Padua.
This word originated from the Latin American Spanish word cafetería, which meant “coffee shop.” Nowadays, though, the Spanish café is a more commonly used term for “coffee shop,” and cafetería has come to mean… you guessed it, “cafeteria.”
“Canyon” came from the Spanish word cañón, meaning “tube,” “pipe” or “barrel.”
This word comes from the Spanish word corral. In both Spanish and English, it refers to a pen or farmyard enclosure.
In English, a “mesa” is a large plateau, but it originated from the Spanish word mesa, which means “table.”
In both English and the original Spanish, patio is a type of courtyard.
In English, this is a public square. The Spanish term plaza originally meant “place,” but it now can also be used to refer to a public square.
“Ranch” originated from the Spanish word rancho which can refer to either a ranch or a communal meal.
“Savanna” comes from the Spanish word sabana. They share the same meaning.
From the Spanish word anchoa. You can blame the Spanish for the name when someone tries to sneak some of these little devils onto your pizza.
Though it’s debated, some believe this word originated from the Spanish word banana, which originated from the Mande word banana. They all refer to the same fruit.
“Barbecue” is derived from the Spanish word barbacoa which may have come from the Arawak language. In Spanish, barbacoa is, in fact, meat that’s slow cooked on an open fire—anybody else craving Chipotle now?
Now known as a delicious rolled dish in both Spanish and English, the word burrito originally meant (and can still mean) “little donkey.”
The English word “chocolate” is derived from the Spanish word chocolate, which is derived from the Nahuatl word chocolatl. Call it what you want as long as you share.
Of course, in both Spanish and English it can be used to refer to the delicious fried dough. But in Spanish, it originally meant “fritter.” Now it’s popular as slang with many different meanings ranging from “botch” to “fluke” to more vulgar things.
Surely you know that the English word “cilantro” came from the Spanish word cilantro. What you might not have known is that, outside of the US, the same herb is often referred to as “coriander” or “coriander leaves.” Looks like the Spanish name really stuck in the US!
While it’s sometimes used to refer to a particular type of dish in the US, in Spanish, it literally means “little fatty” and is used as a term of endearment.
This is derived from the Spanish word charqui which was derived from a Quechua word. In Spanish, it can refer to dried meat or fruit.
In both Spanish and English, “mojito” refers to the classic drink. However, the word was originally derived from the Spanish word mojado, meaning “wet.”
“Pimento” comes from the Spanish word pimiento, meaning “pepper.”
31. Piña Colada
Though you may be more familiar with the drink in English-speaking countries, both words in its name are Spanish. Piña is “pineapple,” while colada means “strained.”
“Potato” comes from the Spanish word patata, which comes from the Taíno word batata.
“Tomato” comes from the Spanish word tomato which comes from the Nahuatl word xitomatl.
While it has older roots in several languages, the English word “tuna” is derived from the Spanish word atún. The exact origins seem fishy.
“Alligator” comes from the Spanish phrase el lagarto, which means “the lizard.”
This word comes from the Spanish word alpaca, which comes from an Aymara word.
Though it now refers to the animal in both Spanish and English, the original meaning of armadillo was “little armed one.”
The word “barracuda” comes from the Spanish word barraco which means “overlapping tooth.” Barracuda in modern Spanish refers to the same fish as it does in English.
The word “cockroach” comes from cucaracha, the Spanish word for the same pest.
“Condor” came from the Spanish word, cóndor, which came from Quechua.
The name of this animal came from the Spanish name for the animal, coyote, which itself came from a Nahuatl word.
Derived from Spanish, which derived it from Arawak, iguana has the same spelling and meaning in both Spanish and English.
This word passed from Quechua to Spanish to English. It has the same spelling and meaning in all three languages.
Though it now has the same meaning in both Spanish and English, the literal translation was originally “little fly” (though “hell spawn” is perhaps more accurate).
“Mustang” is thought to have originated from mostrenco, which referred to free-roaming cattle but now simply means “unclaimed” or “without owner.”
This old-timey term was derived from the word vaquero which means “cowboy.”
This word is thought to be derived from the Spanish word camarada, which means “companion.”
The original Spanish word renegado was used to refer to a rebel or turncoat.
“Vigilante” comes from the Spanish term with the same spelling. In Spanish, it means “watchman” or “guard.”
The word for this grouping of ships comes from the Spanish term of the same spelling and meaning.
You’ll probably shout this out when you strike gold, but in the original Spanish, it simply meant (and still means) “prosperity.”
In English, we use the term to refer to a bucking horse. But the original Spanish word actually means “rough” or “coarse.”
“Breeze” likely comes from the Spanish word brisa, which shares the same meaning.
“Canoe” likely comes from the Spanish word canoa, which shares the same meaning. The Spanish word likely comes from another language, though theories vary as to which.
The English word “cargo” is likely derived from the Spanish word cargo. They share the same meaning.
“Cigar” likely comes from the Spanish word cigarro which comes from an adopted Mayan word.
While used in English to denote courage, the original Spanish word of the same spelling means “testicles.”
The original Spanish word shares the same spelling and meaning as the English word. Both are used to describe official bans on trade.
In both English and Spanish, a “flotilla” is a fleet of ships, though the literal meaning in Spanish is “little fleet.”
In both English and Spanish, “guerrilla” has come to refer to an armed person or group. However, the original Spanish meaning is “little war.”
The English word came from the Spanish word huracán (same meaning), which likely came from an indigenous American language.
The word “jade” is derived from the Spanish term for the same stone, piedra de ijada, which literally means “stone of flank” or “loin-stone.”
The English word “junta,” which often refers to a coup d’état, is derived from the Spanish word junta, which can mean “joint” or “committee.”
“Lasso” comes from the Spanish word lazo meaning “bow,” “knot” or “tie.”
This word shares the same spelling and meaning in both Spanish and English.
This English word is derived from the Spanish word for the same metal, platino, which literally means “little silver.”
Though in both Spanish and English this word can refer to a cowboy show, the original Spanish word comes from the verb rodear meaning “to go around.”
“Stampede” comes from the Spanish word estampida. They share the same meaning.
The English word “suave” comes from the Spanish word suave, which means “smooth” or “charming.”
“Tornado” is derived from two Spanish words: tronada (thunderstorm) and tornar (to turn).
Now that you know the hidden Spanish origins of these English words, your vocabulary (and your spelling) will thank you!
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