Amour fou, c’est la vie, la vie en rose, savoir faire, je ne said quoi, qui lo sa, faux pas, raison d’être, vogue, amateur, affair, voyeur, chauffeur, suite, cuisine, corset, culotte, douche, finesse, apperitive, bon appétite, bon voyage, bon-bon, prêt-à-porter, lingerie, burlesque, derriere, à la mode, ménage a trois…
It’s fascinating to look closely at those words or expressions from other languages that become of common use in English. The French tongue, as in the examples above, lends to the English vocabulary, words that describe an accepted debility for the pleasures of the flesh and the senses, which may –in the opinion of some– enlighten the soul and enrich the human experience. “Live the moment sans rien regrette! Because tomorrow we might be (and in fact will be) dead”, mort, fin. These words acknowledge the complexity of human relationships beyond moral limits or stifled constrains, arbitrarily set by society and religion. These mots indicate a certain level of comfort with the mysteries of life. They seem to proclaim with confidence, “We don’t need to have all the answers to be happy; nobody is parfait but it’s alright. Let’s have another glass of champagne (Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay or Savignon Blanc will do) and make love right now, right here, on your parent’s antique chaise-lounge!”. They define the essence of the bon vivant French esprit, a joie de vivre, as it were.
Similarly, in Italian we have words like paparazzi, dolce vita, opera, spaghetti, al dente, pizza, fritatta, casino, mafia, Machiavelli, commedia dell’arte, mamma mía, diva, Madonna, espresso, machiato, cappuccino, grande, venti… These ambassadorial vocables also show a gusto for life and an inmemorial appreciation for plain good fun, even if sometimes it means to be attained in less than wholesome ways. But unlike the French, they fail to scratch beyond the surface gilded with many layers of glossy Catholic guilt (and that exuberance of double letters). “Let’s eat uncomplicated but tasty food that even children love, listen to beautiful music, raise the spirit, buy a good pair of expensive shoes or get a nice tan at the beach, top it with gelato and don’t worry about reality (because it might get depressing), la vita e bella!”
In the same optimistic vein, Italian has the magical power to make every dish sound delicious, like in the following examples: “Mazzarelle alla teramana“, which in fact is no other than tightly wrapped rolls made with lamb’s lung, heart and tripe; or delicious “Torcinelli“: rolled strips of lamb tripe, sweetbreads, and liver cooked in caul fat, mmmm! Buonissimo!
The Russian language gave us intelligentsia, Molotov (the cocktail), troika (and perestroika), kalashnikov or vodka, words that paint the Russians as smart, temperamental, belicose… and, fond of drinking and of the letters “k”, “i”, “o” and “v”.
As an aside, Russian roulette, French kiss, Italian job, German engineering, Dutch oven, Made in USA, Belgian beer, Nigerian e-mail, Swiss cheese, Euro-trash, Turkish bath, Indian summer, Egyptian cotton, Mexican divorce, Chinese torture and Spanish fly are examples of misnomers that often carry a heavy load of prejudice and their use should not be abused.
Germans have their share with words like Gestalt, Doppelgänger, achtung, angst, Bauhaus, Jägermeister, kaput, spiel, zeitgeist, wunderkind, wunderbar (origin of the word wonderbra), Volkswagen, wiener and hamburger, and they denote these volks are seriously profound, complicated and precise.
Words starting with the prefix “sch…”, like “schlep” are invariably of Yiddish origin, and are meant to spice the informal schmoozing of New Yorkers and schtick a witty and knowing schmile on our faces. Failing to do so will only reveal that you are either not a real New Yorker or anti-Semitic. The popular tonic water “Schweppes” being one of these funny words, as well as others as varied as schedule, scheme, school, schizoaffective, scherzo, Schopenhauer or Schenectady.
We have seen so far how these words help define the stereotypes that simplify the characteristics of different countries and their cultures to a level comprehensible by the average anglocentric person.
Now, what happens with Spanish? Adios, amigo, barrio, bodega, cafetería, conquistador, cojones, chorizo (not to be confused with schoritzo: a Jewish-German sausage seasoned with paprika and garlic made with lamb instead of pork), Cuba libre, defenestrar, embargo, guerrilla, hacienda, hasta la vista, incomunicado, loco, Lolita, mano a mano, macho/machismo, margarita, marijuana, matador, mosquito, nada, paella (for some reason pronounced: payeya), rumba, tornado, derecho, salsa, siesta, sombrero, vigilante… well, I think you can easily reach to your own conclusions about the Spanish contribution to the English language.