15 English Words Which Came From Indigenous Latin American Languages

Latinx influence is all around us in America, you just need to know where to look. We aren’t taught enough that our culture permeates many facets of American life. Just look at the English language; there are many words which come from Spanish, as well as several terms that originated from the indigenous languages of Latin America. Let’s learn about 15 such words.

Avocado

Sure, we love avocados, but we most likely don’t know that the word comes from Nahuatl. In the language, ahuacatl is said to mean “testicle” (which describes the shape of an avocado; it also grows in pairs); this became aguacate in Spanish, which then became avocado in English.

Barbecue

Barbecuing seems as American as apple pie, but the actual word “barbecue” comes from the Taino barbacoa (which is how it is also said in Spanish). The term refers to the act of cooking on a raised frame made of sticks.

Cashew

The word “cashew” comes from the Tupi language (acaîu), which then became the Portuguese caju. That then became cashew in English.

Chili

“Chili” is another word with Latin American indigenous roots. The name comes from the Nahuatl word chīlli, used to describe chili peppers which originated in Mexico. The Spanish version of the word is chile.

Chocolate

Chocolate is something loved the world over, but with roots in Mesoamerica. The word itself is said to come from the Nahuatl word xocolātl, which translates to “bitter water” (the hot chocolate the Aztec made).

Cigar

Cigars have been a part of Latino culture for a long time. In addition to Cuban cigars (you’re welcome), the word itself comes from the Mayan word, sikar, the act of smoking rolled tobacco (si’c) leaves. The Spanish equivalent of this word is cigarro.

Condor

The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world. It makes sense, then, that the word “condor” comes from the Quechua language. The Quechua word kuntur, became the Spanish, condor, which became the same word in English.

Hurricane

Hurricanes are tropical cyclones. It makes sense, then, that the origin of the term comes from the Caribbean Taino. Their word, hurakan, became the Spanish huracan, which then became known as hurricane to English-speakers. It is also said that the Mayans had a god of storms named Hurakan.

Jaguar

The jaguar got its name, thanks to the Tupi-Guarani languages of South America. The Tupi-Guarani, jaguara, became the Portuguese jaguar, which English then adopted.

Jerky

jerky

Beef jerky (or jerky of any sort, for that matter), got its name from the Quechua ch’arki, their word for dried meat. That became the Spanish charquí, which became “jerky” in English.

Petunia

“Petunia” is another word which originates from Tupi. The South American flower got its name from the Tupi word petyn, which means “tobacco that does not make a good smoke.” The Portuguese took the word and made it petum; the French then made it petun, meaning “tobacco plant,” which then became “petunia” in English.

Potato

Perhaps when you think of potatoes, you think of Ireland, or Idaho. But did you know there are over 3,500 varieties of the tuber grown in the Andes? And that the word is Taino? “Potato” comes from the word batata, which means “sweet potato”). This, in turn, became the Spanish patata, which became the English “potato.”

Savanna

A savanna is an open grassy area, with little to no trees, usually in a tropical or subtropical area. The name came from the Taino zabana, which became the Spanish sabana, and then the English “savanna.”

Tobacco

“Cigar” came from the Taino language, and so does the word “tobacco.” It was first tabako (a roll of tobacco leaves which were smoked), which became tabaco in Spanish, and then “tobacco” in English.

Tomato

The tomato is native to what is now Latin America, so it makes sense that its name come from there as well. The English “tomato” comes from the Aztec, or Nahuatl, tomatl, which became tomate in Spanish.