Interesting (and International) Word Origins

  1. Kowtow
    When a person kowtowed to the emperor, or any eminent mandarin for that matter, he or she knelt and touched the ground with his or her forehead. Such a gesture was intended to show respectand submission.

    Today, kowtow has a negative connotation and implies that a person is acting in a subservient orsycophantic manner.

    He kowtowed to his boss on even the most trivial matters that the boss herself soon became nauseatedby his sycophancy.
  2. Powwow
    A powwow was quite a hootenanny of a time and involved a big party of dancing anddining between tribes.

    Strangely, today’s meaning is a lot more subdued, and far less fun. Any informal discussion or colloquyis regarded as a powwow.
  3. Junta
    Junta means to join and comes via Portugal and Spain. But this joining was in no way peaceful.Whenever a military group joined forces to usurp the existing regime, they would form a military junta.

    Today, junta can refer to the aggressive takeover by a group.
  4. Imbroglio
    Imbroglio comes to usvia mid-18th century Italian and has nothing to do with the kitchen. Instead it is related to the verb ‘embroil’ and describes a confusing, and potentially embarrassing, situation.
  5. Juggernaut
    (comes to us via Hindi). A juggernaut was a largetemple vehicle—and when I mean large I mean humongous—under which followers of Krishna would supposedly throw themselves.

    Today, the word juggernaut doesn’t necessarily include any grisly sacrifices, but refers to any largeforce that cannot be stopped.
  6. Schadenfreude
    literally translates from the German as harm-joy

    someone cackling sardonically at the suffering of others
  7. Amuck
    To run amuck is to run about frenzied. While this word comes to us via Malay, you don’t have to live onthe Malaysian peninsula to witness people running amuck.
  8. Pariah
    This word means an outcast. It comes from Hindi, one of the most prominent languages spoken in India.
  9. Nabob
    A nabob is a wealthy, influential person. This word alsocomes from Hindi, and was originally used by Indians to describe a wealthy British person living in India.

    While it is not as common as pundit and pariah, nabob applies to many living here in the U.S., though I don’t think it a good idea to call Donald Trump a nabob to his face.
  10. Bwana
    This word comes from Swahili and means master.

    The word was originally from Arabic, and meantfather.
  11. Zeitgeist
    Translated literally from German, zeitgeist means“time-ghost”. In terms of an actual definition, zeitgeist means spirit of the times.
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Interesting (and International) Word Origins
Around the World