Thursday, March 14, 2013

African Loanwords: Part 2

Today we're continuing on from yesterday's look at African loanwords. This time African wildlife is well represented, with a few more food and music terms thrown in for good measure. 

chimpanzee - Our closest living relative gets its name from Tshiluba, a Bantu language spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which uses the term kivili-chimpenze to refer to the animal as well as apes in general.

banjo - If you're a fan of bluegrass music then you've certainly heard of this instrument. Its name likely comes from a similar stringed instrument called mbanza in at least some of the over 500 Bantu languages.

They probably look so glum because they accidentally
killed Simba's father, the king of the Pride Lands.
gnu - Did you know that "gnu" and "wildebeest" refer to the same animal? We didn't! Wildebeest is Dutch for "wild beast" and Afrikaans for "wild cattle". Gnu, however, may come from a variety of African sources including the Khoisan languages spoken by the San indigenous people (also known as Bushmen, though use of this term is controversial). Their terms for the animal include gnou and !nu: (the ! and : symbols refer to clicks).

goober - While not commonly used anymore, some Americans used to refer to peanuts as "goobers". Nowadays, the term is mainly used to describe a silly or foolish person, generally in an endearing way. It likely comes from the Kongo and Kimbundu term nguba, meaning "peanut". 

gumbo - As we mentioned in Part 1, okra is one of the key ingredients in this typical Louisiana French dish. It came to English via the two Mbundu languages, which use the word ngombo to mean "okra"!

impala - This antelope that's expert at leaping gets its name from the Zulu language's word that means "gazelle". 

Don't you just want to give him a hug?
okapi - If you've never seen one of these, you're missing out on quite a sight! An okapi is described as a short-necked giraffe with a reddish brown coat and zebra stripes on its legs. These awesome animals live in the rainforests of the Congo and get their name from a term in the Mvuba language spoken in the area.

marimba - This xylophone-like instrument's name has its origins in Kimbundu and Swahili.

zombie - Last, but certainly not least, we have the pop culture fad of the decade, zombies. The word almost certainly comes from a Bantu language, such as the Kongo word zumbi meaning "fetish" and the Kimbundu term nzambi meaning "god". The word supposedly started out as the name of a god, and later came to refer to reanimated corpses due to its use in voodoo terminology. Either way, they're scary and they want to eat your flesh.

Are there any words we've missed. Feel free to put them in the comments below. Remember to include a definition, too!