Tag Archives: Swahili

Goobers, Zombies and Banjos: Loan Words from African Languages


Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

This month, The Lingua File did a two-part blog on African loan words used in English.  Many of them will be sound very familiar.  Some notable examples from the blog include:

“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.’

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.

tote – If you’re anything like us, your house is probably full of free tote bags, sturdy cloth bags with handles that are handy for carrying just about everything.  It turns out that using tote as a synonym for carry appeared in English around the late 1600’s and came from a West African language.  Similar words include tota meaning ‘pick up’ in Kongo and tuta, which means “carry” in both 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.”

If you are in the Swahili Foreigner class with GLN, do you know of any English words adopted from Swahili?