Thursday, May 16, 2013

Quechua Loanwords

In previous posts we've looked at loanwords that have made it into English from languages including Tupí, an extinct indigenous language of Brazil. Today we'll be looking at loanwords from another indigenous language native to the Americas, Quechua. However, unlike Tupí, the Quechua language is alive and thriving as the most widely spoken indigenous language of the Americas with approximately 9 million native speakers. We've selected some of our favorite loanwords from the language that have made their way into the English lexicon over the years.

Cocaine - This drug, originally used as an anesthetic, is made from the coca plant. Known as kuka in Quechua, coca leaves have been chewed by indigenous groups in South America for centuries. Though it was once commonly used for medicinal purposes, now it's mainly just a recreational drug.

A majestic llama in front of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Llama - You'd be hard-pressed to find a South American animal that's cooler than the llama. These woolly pack animals get their name from the Quechua term llama that made its way to English via Spanish.

Guano - You may have heard this term before in reference to bat feces, but its name actually comes from the Quechua word huanu, which was used in reference to the dung of sea birds. Andean indigenous groups often collected the dung left by these birds on small islands along Peru's Pacific coast for use as fertilizer.

Condor - If you want to see an ugly bird, then these New World vultures are just the ticket. They are some of the largest flying land birds in the world though, which is fairly impressive despite their penchant for eating decaying animal flesh. Their name comes from the Quechua word cuntur, which later became cóndor in Spanish before reaching English.

Jerky - This tasty treat gets its name from the Quechua word ch'arki with the lovely definition of "dried flesh". Eventually, it passed into Spanish in the Americas as charqui, meaning "jerked meat", before eventually making its way into American English.

Puma concolor, also known as cougar or mountain lion. 
Puma - We love felines, so we were surprised to learn that this is actually a genus of big cats instead of a species! It turns out that the genus Puma includes both cougars (also known as mountain lions) as well as jaguarundis (also known as eyra cats), an awesome species we'd never seen before! The word comes from an identical Quechua term.

Inca - The name of the largest pre-Columbian empire in the Americas comes from an identical Quechua word meaning "lord, king". However, the Incas called their kingdom Tawantinsuyu, while the word Inca was reserved for reference to the ruling class only.

Quinoa - If you've never heard of quinoa before, then you're definitely not a "foodie". If there can be such a thing as a fad crop, then this grain-like plant whose seeds are used in dishes in a similar manner to rice definitely fits the bill. It's popular now, but it was once considered to be sacred by the Incas. Its name comes from the Quechua word kinwa.