The word krapfens means "donuts": in Italy it is quite common to see it in German as well as in English; I guess that's because Italian borrows many original expressions from foreign languages.

It seems to me that in in England, in America and in other countries where English is the official language, the situation is different: people don't borrow many original words and expressions from other languages and consequently they like words which are easy-to-spell, therefore non-English words may be less popular.

Given that, I guess donuts is more popular than krapfens to point out the same object. Am I wrong?

  • Which is the most used between "krapfens" and "donuts", in English?

  • Or, alternatively, if I say krapfens to a native English speaker, does he/she immediately grasp what I meant to point out (as if I said "donuts") ?

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    Krapfen is not used in BrE and AmE to refer to a donut. – user66974 Jun 8 '16 at 8:28
  • This is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Please get help in drafting your posts without spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. – Kris Jun 8 '16 at 8:45
  • @Kris thank you for your suggestion , I edited my question. – franz1 Jun 8 '16 at 9:10
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    It's not true that English does not borrow from other languages, think of inimitable French expressions such as "déjà vu" and "c'est la vie" (not easy spellings either), and words that were derived from Latin such as impossible, instruction, and intelligent. Never heard of Karaoke? Or the word pyjamas? The list is endless! – Mari-Lou A Jun 8 '16 at 12:47
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    Ich bin ein krapfen! – Dan Bron Jun 8 '16 at 12:55

On the contrary, English has an extremely rich vocabulary because is has adopted so many foreign words.

It is natural that the German term is commonly known in Italy, since northern Italy has a sizeable native population of German-speakers (62.3 percent of the population of Trentino Alto Adige / South Tyrol). England obviously does not, but the large number of German-speaking migrants to North America have gifted the English language with many, many loan words, particularly for food.

As to the question of why krapfen is not a commonly known term in English, when a perfectly serviceable word already exists in English, it can be hard for alternative word to gain traction. Doughnuts has been in the English language since roughly 1800 (Wikipedia), and it is more descriptive to the English ear than krapfen and lacks the scatological connotation, so it is not surprising that doughnut is common and krapfen obscure.

  • I am not sure what "scatological connotation" doughnuts, donuts or krapfen have or have to do with in any way. – Kris Jun 8 '16 at 8:48
  • Actually the are very few German words that are used in Italy, krapfen is probably the more common, while there are tens of English terms that are more and more commonly used. – user66974 Jun 8 '16 at 8:58
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    @Kris Krapfen -> Crap fen. Crap = excrement. Fen = bog, swamp. Is it just me that thinks this word does not sound delicious? – mikeagg Jun 8 '16 at 9:16
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    @mikeagg your observation is very interesting. If the word gives such impression to the english speakers, it might be counterproductive using it to define sweets... – franz1 Jun 8 '16 at 9:30
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    @DanBron - I agree, I don't think that the sound of the term has much to do with its adoption as a regular word for food...there is a variety of cookies called "le ossa dei morti" (the bones of the dead) which are delicious, everybody loves them. – user66974 Jun 8 '16 at 14:51

Perhaps you need to consider first why loan words enter a language. Three reasons suggest themselves to me:

  1. The need to communicate with people speaking another language, especially because of trade or military occupation.

  2. The need to refer to a new object. The prime examples here are technological and culinary.

  3. A desire to appear fashionable (in the general sense) by preferring words from a culture thought to be fashionable to perfectly adequate words in one's own language.

Let us look briefly at British English in relation to these categories.

  1. The last occupation of Britain was by the Norman French. What may initially have been loan words to Anglo-Saxon (or whatever) eventually became one part of a fusion to English. British English acquired some loan words through the reverse process: Indian words such as 'bungalow' from the British Raj. For the rest, trade would seem to have been dominant, although this spills into category 2. Fabrics such as 'organdie' come to mind. There are some German loan words from the Second World War, 'blitz' and 'ersatz' (?), although, again, these might be considered new concepts.

  2. New food vocabulary requires the food to be introduced and popular. Doughnuts were not widespread in Britain until after the 1960s, and came from the USA. Britain has its own sausage culture and German sausages are a delicatessen (loan word of this general category) item. Presumably they came to Italy (würstel) from the North. They also came to the US (from German immigrants?) as 'wieners'. More important in Britain was the influence of French cuisine, and this brought loan words such as 'eclair' and 'gateau'. And Italian cuisine brought older acquisitions such as 'spaghetti' and more recent ones such as 'pizza'. New technological objects in recent years have tended to be predominately of US or British origin so, it is the English word such as 'computer' that may be borrowed by other European language (eg German: 'Komputer', although French 'logiciel'). You might say that the word 'program' (only used for computer instructions in British English) is a loan word from the US because of its spelling, but I imagine that is debatable. Older technology gave rise to loan words in English like 'Daguerreotype' (French photographic process).

  3. In the 19th and early 20th century the British regarded French as the fashionable culture in the arts and in fashion. So there are numerous French loan words or phrases in British English (some, such as 'cul de sac' are actually quite meaningless to a Frenchman). However, there are an order of magnitude fewer German loan words because there was no such feeling about Germany. Given the Anglo-Saxon association of France with high fashion, it is ironic that perusal of a contemporary French fashion magazine reveals expressions such as 'le looking' and 'les peoples', although these are rather a case of "the revenge of the cul-de-sac". So now the US is fashionable, thanks to cinema, TV, and popular culture. US English loan words have therefore crept into British English: a good example is the gradual replacement of the British 'lorry' by the US 'truck'.

In conclusion, the introduction of loan words into British English, as with other languages, has specific causes, and is not the result of the whims of individuals, as the question implies.

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