English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've heard that the words "walk" and "talk" do not have cognates in any other known language. That is, neither of these very common words in English have similar forms in other languages, Germanic, Romance, or Celtic (those that have large overlap in vocabulary etymology with English).

So my question is of two kinds:

  • what are some other (common?) words that -do not- share etymology with words in any other language?

  • what are some ways to such a search automatically? (I feel like oed.com used to allow plain old test search of any entry so that one could have looked for 'unknown' or something similar). Also are there any online English word lists that have some etymological info?

share|improve this question
You've heard wrong. "Walk" does not have that meaning in any other language, but the OED gives a host of cognates throughout Germanic, and a probable one from Sanskrit. The OED derives "Talk" from the root of "tale" and "tell", which is Common Germanic. – Colin Fine Apr 19 '11 at 16:31
Both answers excellent..I can only give one to be correct. Also, I probably should have checked those two beforehand...I'll repost reworded with an example I have checked. – Mitch Apr 19 '11 at 20:35
possible duplicate of English word forms not having cognates in any other language – F'x Apr 20 '11 at 6:35
@F'X: re duplicate. This question was the first one in sequence. Because both answers, as useful as they were, didn't address the question (how to find such words), I reposted but with a different title and intro (of course the new example had problems, too, which you pointed out). Anyway, that question should be the 'duplicate' if any. Or better, what would you suggest I do? (Editing out my examples would have rendered all answers absurd, answering things not apparent) – Mitch Apr 20 '11 at 20:05
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Online Etymological Dictionary is a good starting point for looking up words but if you want detailed information I think you'd have to pay for it, or head to the local library.

The entry for talk has a clue to its common roots with words like the German zählen (to count).

share|improve this answer
Zählen: to count, erzählen: to tell, narrate. ;-) – Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 19 '11 at 17:20
And thereby hangs a fascinating tale: tell/tale/tally in English; Zahl,erzählen in German; conte in French; sefer/sippur in Hebrew: all these words or families of related words, have two sets of meanings: one about relating a story and one about numbering. – Colin Fine Apr 20 '11 at 9:54
@ColinFine One can also recount a story, or give an account of it. But when confirming an election, a recount just involves tallying. And your checking account holds numbers not stories. Presumably. :) – tchrist Feb 21 '13 at 3:30
True. Recount the noun has only that meaning. – Colin Fine Feb 22 '13 at 17:04

Talk was tackled by z7sg, so let's get onto walk. The New Oxford American Dictionary traces it back to the Old English wealcan, “of Germanic origin”. Etymonline is more specific:

from Proto-Germanic welk- (cf. Old Norse valka "to drag about", Danish valke "to full", Middle Dutch walken "to knead, press, full", Old High German walchan "to knead", German walken "to full")

So, you heard wrong on both counts.

share|improve this answer

One source of etymology is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Brewer points out that walk is really very curious. Its origin seems to be closer to roll rather than legged-gait. Even more curiously, the word vulva also comes from the same root - why would the female sexual organ be linked to rolling?

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.