Sources of English Words

Michael David Morrissey

© 2010

This is available in book form (paperback) from (see main page for link).

Click in left sidebar to see language sources, arranged alphabetically.


An etymological dictionary normally proceeds backwards in time, tracing the history of contemporary words to their origins (etyma) in various languages.

This dictionary does the reverse, proceeding from the etymon to the contemporary English word(s) that ultimately derive wholly or partially from it.

There are about 175 languages listed here, in alphabetical order, that have contributed in greatly varying degrees to the English lexicon. The largest lists are those of Latin, (Old) English, Greek, and (Old) French, respectively, and there are many lists of more exotic languages containing very few or even only one entry.

These lists say nothing about the relative frequency or importance of the English words deriving from the various languages. I simply wanted to show the range of languages that have contributed in some way to the English store of words.

The lists are arranged by language, alphabetically, without regard to their genetic relationships, except that I have included dialects in the lists of the main languages, so that words from Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Anglian, West Saxon, etc. are included in the English list, Old French and Anglo-Norman are included in the French list, Late Latin and Medieval Latin are included in the Latin list, etc. I have noted these dialectal variations in parentheses (see Abbreviations).

The sequence of information in each entry within each language list is as follows:

1. the etymon

2. the language of the etymon

3. the meaning of the etymon

4. the Indo-European root of the etymon, if appropriate

5. the English word(s) deriving wholly or in part from this etymon

6. cognates in other languages (incomplete)

Component 6 is not only incomplete but barely the beginning of a task that could obviously continue indefinitely. I have included some such information, though, quite sporadically, just to hint at the further work that could be done.

The main usefulness of this work is for those who wish to see what words in English have come from a particular language. Thus you need only find the language in the alphabetical listing to see the list of etyma in that language that have English derivatives. I do not know of a similarly comprehensive collection of source words.


My sources were primarily The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris, Editor, Boston: American Heritage and Houghton Mifflin, 1969 with its Appendix of Indo-European Roots (Calvert Watkins), and the revised edition of the latter published as a separate volume in 1985 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). The current versions of these fine reference works are now available online at, including an appendix of Semitic roots as well as Indo-European roots. I have also relied on the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, ed. by T. F. Hoad (Oxford: 1986), in some cases.

Diacritical marks and non-English letters

I have had to improvise with these, as most of them were not available with the programs I used. The key is in parentheses immediately following the word, with the first number referring to the number of the letter in the word, and the second indicating the diacritic. For example, blætan (3-2) (OE) means the third letter in the word has a length diacritic, i.e., ǣ. I will not try to explain all of these designations here, because one need only look up the English word in a standard etymological dictionary to see what I have used the number to represent.


A Anglian

AN Anglo-Norman

Can Cantonese

Dan Danish

Du Dutch

EModE Early Modern English

F French

G German

Gmc Germanic

Gr Greek

IE Indo-European

It Italian

L Latin

LG Low German

LL Late Latin

MDu Middle Dutch

ME Middle English

MF Medieval French

MHG Middle High German

ML Medieval Latin

Norw Norwegian

OE Old English

OF Old French

OHG Old High German

Pg Portuguese

Skr Sanskrit

Sp Spanish

Sw Swedish

WS West Saxon