English has a lot of words borrowed from Latin. The great majority were borrowed in the 14- and 1500's from Church/Medieval Latin, a huge influx via educated neologism.

I'd like to know if there are any more words that were borrowed into English directly via Vulgar Latin and not through Old French/Norman or Church Latin. That is, I'm looking for those words that because of the Roman invasion and occupation of England, native Latin words were transferred naturally into the local population (yes, I am vaguely aware that the occupation by the Empire was over by the time that Angles and Saxons came to the island, but vague handwaving blah blah life is complicated blah blah).

My expectation is that the set is very very small. I already know of 'street', '-chester', 'inch':

  • street - from Latin 'strata' constructed road
  • -chester - (ending of town names) from Latin 'castrum' (better explanation at castle - from Latin 'castel' village)
  • inch - from Latin 'uncia' for 'one twelfth'

What are some others, if any?

(hat tip for this question to cerberus and tchrist)

  • Could this help? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – user66974
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 16:20
  • So you’ll be wanting Welsh words derived from Latin? :) After all, that's probably the language which is closest to the one spoken in England during Roman times. If you want English from during that period (ᴀᴅ 43 – 409ish), you’ll have to leave Britain and go haring off to the Continent.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 16:21
  • @Josh61 The list of all words having Latin roots is pretty long. I am looking for those words with a very special pathway, and that list doesn't mention the path at all.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 16:22
  • 1
    "wall" and "mill"? These might have been borrowed into Germanic rather than English specifically.
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 19:06
  • 1
    The KJV translators brought a few Latin words from the Vulgate straight into English (for example lucifer, which isn't a proper name, and calvary, which should have been transliterated straight from Koine Greek (as it is in most modern version of the Bible. Both these Latin words have unnecessarily caused a bit of confusion for modern English readers. Perhaps a Google search of other words we have from the KJV which came via the Vulgate. The KJV still has quite an effect on modern English. Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 5:42

1 Answer 1


From The Families of Words, Mario Pei (Harper & Bros, 1962), page 11:

Even Anglo-Saxon, however, borrowed from the Latin and Greek of the missionaries who came to Christianize the heathen Saxon, or of the earlier Roman merchants who traded with the Germanic tribes while they were still on the European mainland......(church, (but this is from Greek circe), street, cheese (L. caseus), kitchen (L. coquina), mint, minster are a few"

On p.38, Pei adds "...cheap (Anglo-Saxon ceapian derived from Latin caupo "merchant") and shrive (Latin scribe)."

If these routes are interesting — traders with Germanic tribes and missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons — see Wikipedia, Latin Influence in English for many more examples, all of which are guaranteed pre-1066, but don't seem to be from the Roman occupation of Britain.

The Germanic tribes who would later give rise to the English language (the Angles, Saxon and Jutes) traded and fought with the Latin speaking Roman Empire. Many words (some originally from Greek) for common objects therefore entered the vocabulary of these Germanic people via Latin even before the tribes reached Britain (what is known as the Continental or Zero Period):

Cognates of virtually all of these English words exist in the other Germanic languages.

I put in the Latin for the words in this long Wikipedia list from The Families of Words and from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.

There is also a list of words from Wikipedia for the missionaries.

Since the Romans had occupied Celtic Britain before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, there are also words of Latin that came to English via Celtic. A source for these words is Latin through Celtic Transmission: Latin Influence of the First Period from Latin Influences on Old English by Albert C. Baugh & Thomas Cable. Although the Celts adopted at least 600 words from the Latin, very few of them survived after the arrival of the Germanic tribes — perhaps only five outside of elements in place names.

  • 1
    Nice find! It'd be nice to have the links to etymonline supporting all these (so that we know when each came in (while one the continent or on the isle).
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 2:17
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    @Mitch See the new last paragraph of my Answer, which addresses Latin transmission through the Celtic to English -- the actual Roman Occupation influence. The long list from Wikipedia is purported to be from the continent -- Roman traders with Germanic tribes. (If I didn't have a life, I could do a better job on this.)
    – ab2
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 2:50
  • Great answer! Shouldn't it be turris rather than turns, though, near the end of your second last paragraph? Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 13:02
  • @Cerberus Yes, looks like it should be turris. But google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=etymology+of+tower says turris goes through the Old French to torr, so a couple of experts disagree on the etymology -- how shocking!
    – ab2
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 21:42
  • @sumelic Thanks for the edits. I need to figure out how to do the neat highlighting. This is a great improvement.
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 0:30

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