universal vocabulary list


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universal vocabulary list

Jul 2, 2012, 12:55 am

'Mama, papa, coffee, taxi.'

These words, along with a few others, are the same in almost every language I've encountered, with slight variations in pronunciation. 'Papa', for example, is 'baba' in Chinese, 'appa' in Korean, and 'abba' in Hebrew. 'Mama' and 'Papa', of course, come from the sounds babies make.

Globalization has produced a few words which are used all over. 'Taxi' or 'Teksi' and 'coffee' or 'kafe' are the same words used worldwide, with few exceptions (in Chinese there are two different words for taxi, neither of which sounds like 'taxi'. 'Coffee' is the same: 'ka fei')

Anyways, just wondering if there are other words you know of which are universal. Do you think, in 50 years, there will be a few hundred words which will form a globally understood, universal vocabulary?

Universal/near universal words:

tea or cha/chai


Jul 2, 2012, 1:17 am

airport (though not airplane, curiously)

I find this especially interesting for items that have been around for centuries, such as coffee, tea, and sugar. The universal name suggests each spread from a single location (or perhaps two, in the case of tea/chai?) and its name spread with it, gladly embraced along with the product.

Jul 2, 2012, 1:23 am

When the concept of the word is new to the certain language and doesn't have an exact word for it, the new word would have to be imported to that language. Hence there are so many words which sound simuler to the other foreign languages... Am I following you alright?

How about ... Jumper in English, Japanese, Korean ;pan (bread) in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese; rickshaw in Chinese, English, Japanese; Tsunami in Japanese, English, etc.

I can't think of any but pretty sure there are more...

Jul 2, 2012, 1:39 am

On second thought, maybe "sugar" changes its sound too much from one language to another; that may be a judgment call. Although the word is a recognizable cognate across languages that are unrelated or distantly related, they're not identical the way "taxi" and "coffee" are. (French "sucre," Arabic "sukkar," Russian "sakhar," Swahili "sukari," Hungarian "cukor," Basque "azukre")

Jul 2, 2012, 1:55 am

Most scientific vocabulary is like that. "Biology" is an interesting example of a word that appeared simultaneously in many European languages, with no unique ancestor.

Chinese frequently chooses not to simply copy foreign vocabulary, and doesn't have the phonetic system to adopt many Western words, so Chinese always going to be a problem.

On the other hand, I think you're stretching it with papa. It's got false cognates--it's Pope in Italian and several other languages--and baba and appa (and the Slavic tata and Turkic dədə) and worse yet the Georgian mama are not going to be universally understood as referring to father.

Another example is banana; in the top six languages by native speakers, Chinese (Mandarin) has 香蕉 (xiāngjiāo), Spanish has banana or banano some places, but uses completely different words elsewhere*, English uses banana, Hindi uses केला (kelā), Arabic uses موزة (máwza), and Bengali uses কলা (kôla). (All from Wiktionary)

* Spanish: banana (es) f (Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay), banano (es) m (Central America, Colombia, Ecuador), cambur m (Colombian Llanos, Venezuela), guineo m (Colombian Atlantic Coast, Dominican Republic, Eastern Bolivia, Eastern Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Northern Honduras), mínimo m (Central Honduras), plátano m (Spain, Chile, Mexico, Peru), plátano fruta m (Cuban standard usage) (from Wiktionary)

Jul 2, 2012, 2:53 am

airport (though not airplane, curiously)

metro - no, airport - no, computer - no. None of these are universally used.

Jul 2, 2012, 3:10 am

Of the ones suggested, Finnish drops telephone (puhelin), airport (lentokenttä), computer (tietokone) and football (jalkapallo).
And football doesn't even have established meaning in English, with Americans talking about different sport than British...

New concepts starting at given point do carry their names with them though in some cases it would be necessary to compare the languages around the places of origin. So for fruits growing in, say, South America, it is not enough to look at European languages but also numerous native languages, and it would be surprising if they had agreed on a name...

Plenty of newer scientific words are probably shared though. I wonder if any language has come up with a new word to "genome" or "integral" (as math term).

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 3:16 am

Re #6: Certainly nothing is 100%, but these are found across a wide selection of unrelated languages. For example, "metro" has the same meaning and nearly identical pronunciation in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Turkish, Tagalog, Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian. (Obviously, some of those are related, but several aren't.) Moreover, in languages such as Hindi it's used and understood alongside a more indigenous synonym. Excluding Chinese, which as prosfilaes noted is often an exception, just the above-listed 12 example languages account for 44% of the world's speakers.

Jul 2, 2012, 3:27 am

Several countries actively try to make their own words when they get newcomers: Finland has been mentioned (computer=tietokone), France does it too (computer=ordinateur), and so does Iceland (computer=tölva). So there definitely are forces to localize vocabulary as well as to globalize it.

Jul 2, 2012, 5:16 am

I've pretty much forgotten my schoolgirl French and German but there are a few discrepancies here as far as modern Greek is concerned (quite odd really when you consider how many other languages have Greek as their source).

okay = εντάξει (pronounced en-daxee)
autobus = λεωφορείο (lay-oh-for-ee-oh)
computer = ηλεκτρονικός υπολογιστής (electronic-os ippo-log-ees-tees)
football = ποδόσφαιρο (poth-os-fair-oh - though 'football' is also common nowadays)
sugar = ζάχαρη zach-ar-ee (the obvious link here is with 'saccharine')

Jul 2, 2012, 5:27 am

The word "bar" is pretty widespread...

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 10:26 am

I suspect no one is contending that a word needs to occur in 100% of languages to qualify as universal; if so, it would be impossible, in practice, ever to prove that a given word meets that test. Moreover, there are probably none that would qualify because there'd always be some isolated language in New Guinea that doesn't include it. Of course, unless we're agreeing that 100% is the benchmark, it doesn't really disprove a word's universality by citing a single language (or two, or five) that doesn't contain it, so we'll have to devise more examples to confirm both positives and negatives.

One objective test might be to establish a threshhold, such as that the word occurs (with a given meaning, and nearly identical pronunciation) in a set of languages entailing at least X% of the world's native speakers, similar to the checks I did for "metro." If X is set too high, it requires checking a prohibitive number of languages because of the steady decline in number of speakers as one goes down the list of languages; I just compiled a spreadsheet and found that, for example, reaching 60% would require proving a word's presence in a minimum of 42 languages, those languages obviously being the world's 42 most spoken. Maybe a benchmark of 30-40% could be considered sufficient. A rougher but far less time-consuming heuristic might be to call a word provisionally universal if, say, it occurs in at least six languages representing at least four language groups or linguistic isolates, the logic being that a word extending into multiple families could be extrapolated as having extended into some or many of the other languages in those families as well.

Those are just a couple of ideas that come to mind; I'm eager to hear others. Because Scott began this engaging thread, I'll defer to him to offer the criterion, if he chooses.

Re #10: That's another great example for "sugar." It seems English is the odd one out by having the middle consonsant be a "g" instead of a "k" or "kh" sound. The "r" is surprisingly consistent, and it seems almost any sibilant can be the initial consonant sound. Interesting.

Jul 2, 2012, 11:01 am

>12 buckjohnson: Good points, buckjohnson. Yes, there will always be exceptions, and no word will ever be adopted by every language. Some languages, like English and Korean, readily adopted foreign words, while others, like French and Chinese, are very resistant (the former because of pride, and the latter because of the difficulty in transliterating loanwords into Chinese characters).

I like your idea of calling a word universal if it is used by 6 different languages in 4 different language families. Although 6 seems too few. How about 10? What does everyone else think?

Most of these universal words are nouns. I wonder if there are any universal verbs?

Jul 2, 2012, 11:05 am

Oh, speaking of football, I've noticed that 'Score!' seems to be fairly widely understood. I guess that's a verb...

Jul 2, 2012, 12:43 pm

It's interesting that two out of the eight words proposed in Post 2 are actually French words with only limited acceptance in English: "autobus" (understood, but not used at all in normal English) and "metro" (only quite recently took over from underground/subway as the default term, not used at all in cities like London and New York that have older systems). I suppose that's the point Buckjohnson made about words "used and understood alongside a more indigenous synonym". We all know what a metro is, even if we take the tube to get to work.

Maritime language ought to be a good place to find words that have crossed between languages, but it doesn't seem to work very well for the words I tried. "Capstan" goes quite a long way, for instance, but it's nowhere near universal. Words like "sheet" and "halyard" don't seem to go across more than two language families: probably those are things invented independently in many different cultures.

I'm sure that there must be a de facto set of basic maritime command verbs that are understood by all merchant seamen independent of where they come from (to express things like "pull", "stop pulling", "make fast", "let go", "come up to my place for a good time").

What about tattoo (verb and noun)? That seems to be a good candidate in western languages, but it only appears in a few Asian ones.

Why has no-one mentioned pizza yet? Surely that's the most universal word that's not a trade-mark.

Jul 2, 2012, 3:40 pm

Not exactly a word, but there is one thing that appears to be nigh-universal: "schhh" for quieting someone. May be the only verbal communication that is as universal as a smile.

Jul 3, 2012, 5:03 am

There certainly should be a universal word for 'help!' I can't guarantee that I would remember a 'second language' version as I'm sinking beneath the waves for the third time.

Jul 3, 2012, 5:37 am

Well.. not really. papa is "tati" in Bulgarian... so it is not as universal as you might think...

Jul 3, 2012, 6:00 am

One bet for help is "mayday". I'm not sure more people will understand it then "help", but they'll appreciate that you're trying to be international instead of parochial. SOS is there, but I don't think it has a universal pronunciation.

As a side note, I've been looking these up in Wiktionary. Esperanto is sometimes interesting; there's been arguments from day one about whether to adopt international words or build them internally; e.g. hospitalo versus malsanulejo--literally a place for sick people. (While I'm rambling, hospital is interesting internationally; how close does it have to be count? We've got Basque ospitale, French hôpital, Romanian's spital, Polish (szpital), Swiss German Spital, Italian ospedale, Luxembourgish Spidol, and Maltese sptar. Tetum, Tagalog, Hiligaynon and Swahili all fall in this range. It's got big holes, but it passes the four language family test.)

Volapük is always funny. It is, of course, naturally, completely obvious that the name of the language is a simple combination of World + Speech with natural phonetic changes; I would say that the same thing is true of nünöm and computer, but someone would claim it was derived from ordinateur or rekenaar, and I could not gainsay them. (Perhaps a bit unfair, as a non-Esperantist could not make head or tails of malsanulejo, but Volapük is consistently distant from the universal vocabulary and consistently etymologically opaque.)

Jul 3, 2012, 6:02 am

>17 Booksloth:
I suppose you could try "Mayday!", which was invented for that purpose, but wouldn't necessarily be understood by anyone who hadn't done a radio course at some point in their life.

Jul 3, 2012, 6:13 am

I don't know about outside of English, but I think it's fairly well-known to English speakers. It comes up in aviation, and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't name a TV show "Mayday!", nor title as many books Mayday as they do, if it were obscure jargon. (Of course, well-known to English speakers doesn't mean much on this topic.)

Jul 3, 2012, 6:46 am

>17 Booksloth:,21
According to Wikipedia, "sloths are competent swimmers", so absent-mindedly uncurling that third toe from the branch might not be the end of the world...

I'm sure that prosfilaes is right, that most people who read books, watch movies, etc., will know about "Mayday". But if you splash down on some remote stretch of the Orinoco or the Amazon, I wonder if you can count on the indigenous people being aware of an international concept that goes with the worlds of shipping, aviation and wireless?

Jul 3, 2012, 9:29 am

Y'all do know that Mayday is just an English spelling for M'Aide (not sure about the spelling), French for Help Me!

Jul 3, 2012, 10:11 am

I believe the original French for Mayday is "m'aidez!" which does indeed mean help me, and is pronounced Mayday (or close thereto).

Jul 3, 2012, 11:21 am

Because recent technology words seem to be pretty good candidates, one possible universal verb might be "photograph." I knew there were similar verbs in French ("photographier") and Russian ("fotografirovat'"), and some research shows Spanish ("fotografiar"), Italian ("fotografare"), Luxembourgish ("fotograféieren"), and Czech ("fotografovat'"), but I'm having trouble finding the verb (as opposed to the noun) in most bilingual dictionaries. Verbs can be expected to vary more than nouns across languages because of the required verb endings, but a speaker who knows any one of these would surely recognize the meaning of the others.

The noun "photo" or "photograph" seems to be a universal; "photo" easily passes the 10-4 test, and I'm just shy of meeting the test for "photograph," though that's only because I'm enough of a purist to exclude several languages in which it appears as "fotografia."

photo: English, Spanish, Romanian, German, Afrikaans, Russian; Swahili, Lingala; Indonesian; Estonian; Basque

photograph: English, French, Swedish, Albanian, Welsh, Hindi; Turkish; Japanese

Jul 3, 2012, 11:36 am

There is something to be said about this though - in Bulgarian there is a derivative word but using it is not common. So if you read a dictionary, the word is there. If you speak the language - well... chances are you are going with a different one.

Jul 3, 2012, 4:45 pm

I thought snimka was the common Russian word and that foto applied more to film photography. Anyhow, I can confirm 'photo' also for Swedish. I think it's a good candidate, albeit somewhat trivial.

Jul 3, 2012, 5:41 pm

>27 anglemark:

Yes, it is. Same as Bulgarian. Dictionaries don't give the full story - words exist but if they are not used, they don't really count for such statistics.

Jul 3, 2012, 5:48 pm

Wikipedia on the etymology of 'mayday.'

The Mayday callsign originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897–1962). A senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French m’aider. "Venez m'aider" means "come help me."


Jul 3, 2012, 9:36 pm

#28: I think it's a more complex issue of whether they're understood. If you have to, in English you may call the organ that pumps blood the "coronary muscle", and a good number of people will understand, even if that's not the normal word for it.

Jul 4, 2012, 2:09 am

#25, Finnish uses valokuva, which is a calque of photograph.

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 2:33 am

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Jul 4, 2012, 3:35 am

Yeah, Samsung is definitely a good candidate. Water isn't but perhaps filter is? Thanks hairtrans02 for an interesting thought and give our regards to hairtrans01.

Jul 4, 2012, 4:44 am

Yes, we all know about m'aidez/mayday but how many of us would think of it in a panic situation?

#22 There's always an exception. This sloth flounders around a bit then sinks like a stone :)

Jul 4, 2012, 8:43 am

RE: #25
Buck - In 1943, by international accord of lusophone countries, the Portuguese language eliminated the use of -ph- in words derived from Greek letter Φ (phi) and employed the letter F instead, so the relevant words in current-day Portuguese are foto (noun) and fotografar (verb).

Jul 10, 2012, 12:55 pm

regarding football, surely GOAL is understood as such by all who play the game, regardless of the language!

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 3:22 pm

But it's understood as an English word. It hasn't been borrowed into most languages.

Jul 13, 2012, 2:07 pm

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Jul 13, 2012, 2:51 pm

I think message #38 above should be flagged, but I have no idea how to do it. I tried the LT help section (which I've never found to be all that helpful, frankly) but didn't find instructions on how to do it. Can anyone explain the process to me (and perhaps to others in my predicament)?

Jul 13, 2012, 3:11 pm

>39 jpyvr:

Click on "More" under the message and the Flag option shows up. Just click on Flag and then on "Flag this message"

Jul 13, 2012, 3:27 pm

"Massage" might otherwise be a candidate for a universal word. I like to be positive.

Jul 13, 2012, 3:44 pm

You can also flag the poster.


Jul 13, 2012, 6:14 pm

Thanks all, for the tip. Looks like the work has already been done for me.

Jul 14, 2012, 1:06 am

In a way, it's flattering that LT, and this thread in particular, are considered popular enough to be worth spamming, not once but twice.

Research shows that "spam" (for the electronic nuisance, not the brand name) really does seem to have become an international word:
English, French, Spanish, German, Danish, Czech, Albanian; Azeri, Kazakh; Hungarian; Indonesian

Edited: Jul 14, 2012, 1:59 am

Chemical elements discovered in modern times (as opposed to silver, tin, etc.) seem to be good candidates for international words, but one shows an unusual behavior. It turns out that two etymologically unrelated words for nitrogen both qualify as international words:

nitrogen: English, Spanish, Catalan, Breton, Welsh, Norwegian, Farsi, Kurdish; Hungarian; Arabic; Indonesian; Swahili, Yoruba; Basque; Tagalog

azote: French, Italian, Portuguese, Corsican, Albanian, Greek, Latvian, Polish, Russian; Turkish, Azeri, Kazakh; Maltese; Lingala

It's interesting that two etymologically unrelated synonyms both span enough language groups to qualify, which of course in this case is made possible because some language families are divided (Spanish and Catalan vs. Italian and Portuguese, Arabic vs. Maltese, Yoruba vs. Lingala).

A few Germanic languages use a variant related to the German "Stickstoff" and Dutch "stikstof," which doesn't seem to enter any other families, and which I otherwise would have pegged as a word for "glue." Also, darsu brought up calques, and one of my favorites has always been the Russian word "vodorod," meaning "water-producer," hence a calque for the Greek-derived English word "hydrogen."

Jul 16, 2012, 6:00 am

>45 buckjohnson:
...and hydrogen is waterstof/Wasserstoff in Dutch and German. Oxygen and sulphur also tend to have "localised" (or at least Germanised) names, presumably because they were also isolated quite a long time ago, but oddly enough phosphorus and the halogens don't seem to.

Jul 16, 2012, 10:07 am

Hydrogen = väte
Oxygen = syre
Nitrogen = kväve
Sulphur = svavel

In Swedish.

Mar 9, 2019, 1:05 pm

As it is in our rights as the aspect of Death, I hereby revive this topic from its dormant state, So mote it be.

Mar 10, 2019, 3:52 pm

Be interested to see if any new "universal" words have appeared in the last 6 or 7 years since post 47:

Mar 12, 2019, 10:26 pm

In many European languages, the word 'orange' signifies both the fruit and the colour. Surprisingly, the colour is named after the fruit. Middle English, like most European languages, had no specific word for the colour orange, calling it just 'yellowy-red'. The second most common name for orange (fruit) in Europe is 'portukal' or a variant of that word. Apparently Portuguese merchants were the first to introduce oranges to the rest of Europe. They were brought to Iberia by Arab/Moor invaders in the 8th century.

It is not quite a universal word, but it is widespread.

Mar 12, 2019, 10:54 pm

Apparently "huh?" is universally understood to mean, "I don't understand"

Edited: Mar 13, 2019, 3:48 am

>50 madpoet: In most of the modern Germanic languages the fruit is a “Chinese apple” (Apfelsine, sinaasappel, apelsin, etc.) but the colour is orange (in German itself there used to be a North-South divide between “Apfelsine” and “Orange”, but the latter now seems to be taking over). “Apelsin” also seems to have got into Russian (Апельсин) and some other northern languages, but not Polish.

AFAIK the colour-word only came into general use in Northern Europe through its connection with the Orange family and the Protestant reformation, quite separately from the fruit. And of course the family takes its name from the French town, whose name originally had nothing to do with the fruit, although both subsequently adopted the fruit as a symbol.

I wonder if lemon would be closer to being universal - that only has two widespread forms: “lemon” or “citron”.

>51 madpoet: Except in films about the American West, where it means “Good afternoon, I trust I find you well” when uttered by actors dressed as native Americans.

Mar 13, 2019, 7:23 am

Wondering how widely 'OK' is used.

Thorold, I thought that was 'How'--? I guess one of us-ums isn't up to speed with movie Injun talk and it's probably me as I don't remember having ever lasted out a cowboy movie unless you count that one with Jon 'Cowboy' Voigt & Dustin Heap-Small-Shining-Arrow-That-Dances-At-Midnight Hoffman.

Oh god I hope I don't sound like an alumnus of Covington.

Mar 13, 2019, 8:49 am


Edited: Mar 13, 2019, 9:11 am

>53 bluepiano: I bow to your expertise!

According to Wikipedia, the South China Morning Post has called “OK” the most frequently spoken or written word on the planet (but it doesn’t say how they calculated that). So you may be onto something. I don’t know whether that speaks for the ubiquity of global harmony or for the number of countries around the world where US soldiers have at some time or another bartered Lucky Strikes for sexual services...

Mar 13, 2019, 11:30 am

>52 thorold: If the color orange in Northern Europe came from the family name then is it just coincidence that the orange-family color and the orange-fruit color are the same?

Mar 13, 2019, 12:21 pm

>56 jjwilson61: Yes and no - it’s coincidence that the town and the family have the same name as the fruit, but they exploited that coincidence by adopting the fruit, and hence the colour, as their symbol.

Edited: Mar 13, 2019, 8:22 pm

>52 thorold: Sorry, Thorold, but I have to disagree. According to several sources (not just Wikipedia) the colour 'orange' comes from the fruit. It was adopted in English and other European languages centuries before the House of Orange came into prominence.

Below is a link to a cool little map of what oranges (fruit) are called in different parts of Europe. Thorold is right, in many Nordic countries it is called 'Appelsin' or some such variant. Otherwise it is called a variant of 'portugal' or 'orange/naranj'. Oddly, considering oranges were introduced to Europe by Arabs, in Arabic it is known as 'burtuqal'. The reason may be that originally oranges were a quite bitter citrus fruit, similar to lemons. But the Portuguese and Spanish developed sweet oranges: the kind we know today.


Mar 14, 2019, 8:25 am

FWIW, "brandgul" ("fire-yellow") was the most common word for the colour orange in Sweden until quite recently (meaning in my own lifetime). It can still be heard, but it is rare nowadays.

Edited: Mar 14, 2019, 9:21 am

>58 madpoet: You could well be right, although my Shorter OED suggests that in English, the fruit is late Middle English and the colour late 16th century - I didn’t research it in any great depth. But I’m wondering how you would account for the languages where the colour is “orange” and the fruit has a different name?

(Edited to remove unintended tetchiness...)

Mar 14, 2019, 9:54 am

Swedish borrowed the word for the colour from English.

Mar 15, 2019, 2:26 am

>60 thorold: Good question. Well, I guess that as most western and central European languages (including German) adopted the colour name 'orange' from the fruit, the colour name spread north, even though the fruit name did not.

Or as anglemark says, the colours were adopted later from English.

By the way, it appears I was wrong about Portuguese developing sweet oranges from the bitter 'Seville oranges' that the Arabs brought to Iberia. The sweet oranges were imported from India in the 16th Century by Portuguese merchants. The gap between the first introduction of oranges (a bitter fruit used for seasoning and sauces) and the second introduction of oranges (sweeter and suitable for eating by itself) could explain why the colour 'orange' was adopted later, when the fruit became more popular.

Edited: Oct 4, 2020, 3:17 pm

What do you think please add and comment on these 2 groups:

A. All to Most as is:


B. Nearly identical:


Oct 4, 2020, 2:13 pm

Not even close for


Most languages have their own words for those and if they belong to a different family, they'll have nothing in common.

Tea is more often than not a local variation of 'chai'.

Okay is commonly used in areas influenced by English, but is really just an English word people use, with local varieties with a similar meaning used as well or more often. Ditto for bullshit, but it's far less commonly used outside English speaking world than OK.

Hippo, helicopter and the like will also be words with non-Latin root in many languages.

Edited: Oct 4, 2020, 3:22 pm

okay then, I'll re-edit my comment, I will update the list from time to time.

I accept your comment on hello and biscuit. but bye, cool , okay and bumper are used as is in addition to the mother tongue language. And if it's a popular (popular even as a 2nd or 3rd word compared to the common word) addition, why not put it on the list?

no one said it must be a standalone word (as for all "inventions" such as the invention of pizza and telephone.)

And about hippo and helicopter were you implying that they belong to group a rather to b?

Oct 4, 2020, 3:25 pm

I mentioned "hotel" above; I'm pretty sure it's universal.
Never heard bumper mentioned in French; they use pare-choc.
What about "park"?
In the list >63 jarry78: I have never heard baget and bumber, nonchalantic, biologic: why not simply biology?
Alcohol, maybe...

Helicopter is Hubschrauber in German.

Edited: Oct 4, 2020, 3:39 pm

Here's another one:

and pullover - though in some languages it is sweater or a variant

Oct 4, 2020, 4:15 pm

‘Hippopotamus’ is zeekoei (Sea-cow) in Afrikaans — same logic, different result!
‘Jacuzzi’ is a commercial trademark, like Coca-cola or iPhone
‘Biscuit‘ doesn’t even crossover between different varieties of English
‘Biological’ in the sense of “grown without artificial fertiliser” is ‘organic’ in English

I’ve never come across bumber or baget either

Oct 4, 2020, 4:58 pm

>65 jarry78: No one here uses bumper or bye. No one even knows what bumper is unless they speak English. It is strictly an English word. Bye is known, but not used at all. Italian ciao is common if we don't use our own word.

I wasn't really commenting on whether to include these words and in what list, just offering outsider insight on some of them.

Linguistically speaking, there's a world of difference between words incorporated into standard language (like hotel, telephone, coffee, etc.) and those used colloquially or in slang, which is often restricted to only certain social groups. 'Cool' would be an example used often by younger people in a slangy context, but if you poll the older generation, few would know what it means, let alone use it. Also, such words haven't really been adopted, but are used in a kind of code-switching - you insert an English word which has become a part of your vocabulary through extensive contact with English (online, through movies, etc.), which is why only groups who have such contact with English use them and know them. It is a cultural influence more than a linguistic one.

Regarding hippo, Croatian and German are two languages that I know with tendency to create words with their own root, rather than the Latin-root one. Consequently, in Croatia, only zoologist know the hippo by its Latin name, for the rest it's nilski konj (meaning the Nile horse) or vodeni konj (water horse)

Oct 4, 2020, 6:20 pm

>67 overthemoon:

"hotel, park, marathon"--good choices, offhand I'd say among the best

Oct 5, 2020, 4:09 am

I think if you look into words starting with al- (Arabic roots) you might find some universal ones, such as alambic, algebra, but I'm not going to start looking them up... Another one that came to mind is elephant.

Oct 5, 2020, 9:36 am

I meant bumper, my mistake

so far suggestions as

are very good

Oct 5, 2020, 10:55 am

How about “sport” and “police” — there are local words for police in most languages, but they all seem to have the English word on the back of their jackets nowadays.

I’m wondering about “banana” — is it understood in countries where they use “pisang”?

Edited: Jan 4, 2023, 7:56 pm

I know this is an old post, but I thought it would be nice to include:
Déjà vu

If I had the time I could probably come up with some more.

But basically, I believe there are certain words that define high-level concepts,
and other words that originate in high-level societies/empires.

"Algebra" is the perfect example.
Latin (Roman Empire) is probably full of examples.

You get the idea.