Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why do some non-English words become English words even though there is already are English words meaning the same thing that are more universally understandable?

For example,

He received kudos from everyone on his performance. - dictionary.reference.com

The word kudos [koo-dohz, -dohs, -dos, kyoo-] is a greek word [κῦδος] that became an English word (ref: wikipedia).

Wouldn't it be more understandable for the non-native listener to just use the glory or honor instead of the original Greek kudos?

Is the value of the word different when a word from another language is used even though they have the same meaning?

share|improve this question
7  
English could have as much as half of its words originating in other languages. Did you know these other less foreign words in your question are not native to English but were borrowed over the centuries? universally, example, performance, receive, same, value, glory, language, native, honor, they, differ. Most of those came via French and two came from Norse. "Instead" wasn't borrowed directly but was invented to translate Latin "in loco". –  hippietrail Mar 12 '12 at 9:48
    
@hippietrail I think your comment might be off-topic. –  John Isaiah Carmona Mar 12 '12 at 9:59
2  
@JohnIsaiahCarmona: Please tell us why you feel the comment is off topic, or what do you feel makes the recent borrowing so distinct from the older borrowings? –  hippietrail Mar 12 '12 at 10:45
2  
@hippietrail Interesting; Tolkien used the ār element to mean high, glory, or mighty. Being a scholar of Old and Middle English seems likely that he took that from the same root for his invented languages. Ar-Pharazôn, Arnor, Aragorn are just a few of the many examples. –  tchrist Mar 12 '12 at 12:39
3  
Perhaps what OP needs to take on board is that English isn't particularly biased towards becoming "more understandable for the non-native listener". Native speakers adopt new words and usages for all sorts of reasons, as others have pointed out. But making the language easier for non-native speakers to learn is rarely a factor, imho. –  FumbleFingers Mar 12 '12 at 12:57

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Some possible reasons:

  • People are always looking for fresh ways to express something
  • A foreign word may carry richer meaning or connotations than an English word (although that doesn't appear to be the case here). For example, a popular software package is named "LibreOffice" from the Spanish "libre", meaning "free." The English word "free" can mean "at no cost" or "without restrictions", but Spanish expresses these as "gratis" and "libre", respectively. The software creators presumably wanted to be clearer than "FreeOffice" would allow.
  • Language always conveys both meaning and cultural signals. An English speaker who says that a piece of art has "a certain je ne sais quoi" may feel that this sounds more cultured than "a certain indefinable quality". Similarly, an American who says "post hoc ergo propter hoc" in denouncing someone else's argument may be attempting to convey "I am a well-learned person, and I base my argument on ancient principles of logic".
share|improve this answer

In some cases I believe that it's because a country was invaded and subsequently occupied for long enough that there was a (possibly two-way) osmosis of vocabulary.

Modern English words derived from Norse or French are extremely common because of occupation of England, and words derived from Persian are common because of the British colonial period in India.

share|improve this answer

I think that sometimes prestige can orient our word choice. In some fields of communication specific words seem more prestigious than others, for example, French words are highly recommended in fields such as arts whereas Greek and Latin words give a sientific flavour to the speech of doctors and scientists.Moreover, upper middle and upper classes in society prefer to stuff their talks with foreign words, especially French, to highlight their prominence and power.

share|improve this answer

There are many, many reasons as to why, but I'm only going to list some:

  1. Settlement of England by various other people. When Normandy conquered the Anglo-Saxons, the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons was Old English. However, words like "swine" got incorporated into the language.

  2. Religion: When monks and priests came to the British Isles, they brought with them their Latin and Greek ancient texts. In time, some of the Greek and Latin words became part of the language as well. Just keep your eyes out for the next few days, and you will be able to spot those words. I can't seem to bring any to mind at the moment.

Those are the two most general reasons I can think of.

share|improve this answer

English is a wholesale importer of words from other languages. Consequently it has a vast vocabulary, and speakers and writers of English appear to enjoy having different ways of saying the same thing, especially to convey precise shades of meaning.

In the case of kudos, it would not be the same to say glory or honor even though that is what the original Greek means. In English the word carries the connotation of praise, and is used as a declaration of acknowledgment for someone's achievements or actions.

share|improve this answer

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 10 '13 at 18:24

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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