NOBODY likes a false friend.

They’re a thorn in our relationships, and a downright disaster when it comes to language learning.

Of course, in linguistic terms a ‘false friend’ is any word that sounds familiar to us but means another thing entirely.

Like when you try to say you’re ’embarrassed’ in Spanish and end up admitting you’re pregnant (embarazada).

Or when you stop a supermarket attendant to ask which bread contains ‘preservatives’ but end up suggesting the Spanish like to eat condoms (preservativos).

No, stay well away from false friends.

Luckily there are hundreds of English words almost entirely stolen from Spanish.

Here are 36 English words you didn’t know were actually Spanish in origin and may help you out in a pincho.

(Wrong. A pincho is a type of tapas dish.)

Shelly Collins Yppmbepyffq Unsplash
The English word ‘alligator’ is a corruption of the Spanish ‘el lagarto’ meaning ‘the lizard’. Source: unsplash.

36 English words you didn’t know were stolen from Spanish

Aficionado – From the Spanish meaning connoisseur or fan of a subject.

Alligator – From the Spanish el lagarto or ‘the lizard’, which English-speaking settlers picked up from earlier Spanish explorers in Florida.

Anchovy – From the Spanish anchoa, itself probably from the Basque anchuva meaning ‘dry’.

Armadillo – From the Spanish meaning ‘little armoured one’.

Avocado – One of many Nahuatl (Aztecan) words picked up by Spanish colonial explorers, or aguacate in Spanish.

Barbeque – From the Spanish barbacoa, itself from the Arawak (native Caribbean).

Breeze – From the Spanish brisa.

Cannibal – From Christopher Columbus’ expeditions where native Carib people called themselves Caniba. Columbus thought they meant they were Asian people of ‘Khan’ while the word later become corrupted to mean ‘savage’.

Cargo – From the Spanish verb cargar, meaning to load.

Cigar – From the Spanish cigarro, from which also comes ‘cigarette’ or cigarillo in Spanish.

Chilli – Another Nahuatl word in Spanish usually rendered as chile.

800px New World Domesticated Plants
English has borrowed most of the Spanish words for crops found in the New World by Spanish conquistadors, such as maize, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla, tobacco and chocolate. Source: WikiMedia

Cockroach – From the Spanish cucaracha.

Conquistador – From the Spanish meaning ‘one who conquers’ and in particular colonial explorers.

Embargo – From the Spanish verb embargar, of the same meaning in English.

Flotilla – Another war-related term from the Spanish meaning ‘a little fleet of ships’ and from the Spanish verb flotar, or ‘to float’.

Guerilla – From the Spanish word guerra, or ‘war’, and meaning ‘little war’ and then ‘independent fighter’.

Lasso – A cowboy termed picked up in the New World, from the Spanish lazo or ‘knot’.

Macho – From the Spanish, meaning masculine.

Marmalade – From the Galician-Portuguese marmelada, itself from marmelo or ‘quince’.

Mosquito – From the Spanish word mosca – which means ‘fly’ – and meaning ‘little fly’.

Mustang – From the Spanish mesteño, meaning a found horse of unknown ownership, and later to mean ‘wild horse’.

Patio – From the Spanish, meaning ‘an inner court open to the sky’.

Potato – From the Spanish patata, itself from the Carib of Haiti’s batata.

Christine Mendoza Hddzofx8pla Unsplash
Mustang is one of the many American English words picked up in the New World, from the Spanish mesteño and coming to mean any wild horse. Source: unplash.

Quixotic – Meaning ‘absurdly romantic’ or ‘striving for an unattainable ideal’ after the half-mad Don Quijote.

Renegade – From the Spanish renegado, originally meaning a Christian who converted to Islam, and later meaning a rebel or turncoat.

Rodeo – From the Spanish verb rodear or ‘to go round’ and picked up by cowboys in the New World.

Savvy – West Indies slang from the Spanish sabe usted? (‘do you know?’) and later meaning ‘smart’.

Sherry – A fortified wine typically from the Spanish city of Jérez.

Stampede – From the Spanish estampida.

Stevedore From the Spanish estibador, meaning ‘one who loads cargo’.

Suave – From the Spanish word for ‘soft’, and meaning in English ‘charming’ or ‘confident’ of a man.

Tobacco – From the Spanish tobaco, itself from the Taino (native Caribbean) language in the New World.

Tomato – From the Spanish tomate, itself from the Nahuatl tomatl.

Tornado – From the Spanish tronada, from the Spanish verb tronar, meaning ‘to thunder’.

Tuna – From the Spanish atún.

Vigilante – From the Spanish meaning a ‘watchman’, itself from the Spanish verb vigilar meaning ‘to keep watch over’.


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