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You've Been Speaking Spanish Without Knowing It!

Most Americans know a few words of Spanish here and there, even if it's just a little slang. This comes as no surprise, given that about 50% of Mexico's original territory was ceded to the USA in 1848 after the Mexican American War, making up most of what is known today as the Southwest.
As a result, Hispanic people are the largest ethnic minority in the US. Some language mix-up is inevitable. But even if you think that you don't know a single word in Spanish, you're in for a surprise. Chances are, you're already using Spanish words without even knowing it. In this article, we'll learn about 11 Spanish words all English speakers use frequently. They're sorted alphabetically for your convenience.

1. Alligator

1. Alligator
This reptile, known to be around since prehistoric times, is prevalent in swamps across the USA and parts of Mexico. Its English name is derived from the Spanish el legarto, meaning "the lizard." The English word alligator was first recorded around 1565. Did you know they can grow up to 15 feet long? Here's another fun fact: the US state most notorious for its alligators, Florida, got its name from Spanish as well. The Spanish term for Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) is Pascua florida.

2. Armadillo

The word used to describe this small, naturally armored creature is derived from the Spanish term armado, meaning, "armed," along with the Spanish diminutive suffix -illo. Together, they make armadillo, meaning "little armored one." The word was first recorded to be in use in English around the 1500s.

3. Alpaca

3. Alpaca
The third animal on our list, the alpaca, is a domesticated animal that is the primary livestock in South America. The natives living in the region of Peru and Bolivia near Lake Titicaca are called Aymara. Their word for the animal is allpaca.

4. Bodega

These are small, independent grocery stores. They're most common on the East Coast, but if you've never seen one, check out these cats living their best life in bodegas. The word bodega translates to "wine-cellar" or "wine shop," and is descended from the Latin word apotheca, which also gave us the English word apothecary.

5. Buckaroo

This word for cowboy is a direct translation of the Spanish word for cowboy, vaquero. It has the Spanish word for cow in it, vaca. Vaqueros have been herding cattle in America since the 1500s, but the word buckaroo emerged around the mid-1820s, along with the white Americans who migrated into Mexican ranching territories. The main change we see in the pronunciation of the word is a swapping of the V in a B. That is because of the Spanish pronunciation of V: the Hispanic pronunciation of V sounds like a soft B, which may be confusing to the unaccustomed ear.

6. Lasso

6. Lasso
A lasso can be either made of rope or from a braided hide. In English, this word functions both as a noun and a verb, but that is not the case in Spanish. The first uses of the word in English are recorded around 1760, and it is derived from the Spanish lazo, which translates to "ribbon."

7. Mosquito

The -ito suffix is similar to the -illo one from armadillo: it suggests something is small or sometimes cute. We couldn't think of anything in the entire world that is less cute than a mosquito, but this time, the -ito suffix denotes that it is a small fly. The Spanish word for fly, mosca, turns into "mosquito" in both Spanish and English. The first uses of the word in English were recorded around 1575 to 1585.

8. Ranch

The Spanish predecessor for the English ranch is rancho. It comes from the Spanish verb rancharse, meaning “to lodge” or “to eat together,” usually around a big table.

9. Savvy

This one may sound French, but it has its roots in Spanish, just like the rest of the words on the list. The word savvy in English comes from the word sabe in Spanish, meaning "he/she knows." As mentioned before, the Spanish pronunciation of B and V is difficult to discern, thus turning sabe into savvy. In English, the word savvy describes a person who's experienced, in-the-know, seasoned. The first uses of the word savvy were recorded as early as 1775 to 1785.

10. Stampede

10. Stampede of zebras
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stampede (noun) as "a wild headlong rush or flight of frightened animals; a mass movement of people at a common impulse." It is derived from the Spanish noun with the same meaning - estampida.

11. Tornado

11. Tornado
This word was in use in English from around the 1550s to the 1560s. It emerged from the Spanish word for a thunderstorm, tronada. The "torna" part of the word tornado is also a nod to the Spanish verb tornar, meaning "to turn or twist."
Made it all the way here? Welcome! you're in for a few more bonus words that slipped into English, this time they're from Native American languages. Many of them have been already extinct, but today, there are still 150 spoken Native American languages.

1. Barbecue

family having a barbecue
Every American knows that a barbecue is way more than a fire-roasted meal. Some would even say it's less about the food and more about the company. The Taíno people around the Caribbean used to hang meat and vegetables above a fire in a process called barbakoa. The word means "framework of sticks." The Spanish are responsible for bringing that cooking method into North America.

2. Mississippi

Did you know that no less than 26 American states have their name derived from the names of Native American tribes? The Mississippi River is no different. It got its name from the Ojibwe people that lived where the river begins in Minnesota. They called it Misiziibi, meaning "great river."


3. Pecan

 3. Pecan growing on a tree
Pecans were eaten after the first Thanksgiving Day feast alongside a fire, and that is why we enjoy a pecan pie on the holiday. The word pecan comes from the word pakani in the Algonquian language. It is sometimes pronounced pakan, depending on the region. This translated to "hard nut." The French were the first to integrate this word into their language as pacane, which slipped into English as pecan.

4. Kayak

man sitting by a kayak on a snowy panorama
While the modern-day kayak is mainly used for recreational or sporting purposes, the Inuit people who lived in Canada and Alaska used it for hunting. In their language, called Inuktitut, the word for a kayak is qajaq. The very first ones were made from animal skin!
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