As much as 80% of the English we speak today is made up of cognates and loanwords.
Spanish is the 6th most common language for loanwords, taken not only from England's European neighbor Spain, but also where paths crossed in the New World. At its peak 1.5% of all new loanwords in the English language were borrowed from Spanish.
Over time these foreign words changed phonologically, and sometimes in spelling, to match more common English pronunciations. Although these words might first require definition, eventually they became so common as to no longer need explanation. By then little remained to distinguish them from other English words.
This was certainly not just a New World phenomenon — gecko and penguin are loanwords from Malay and Welsh, respectively for example — but as English speakers followed Spanish speakers into areas that now comprise the southern and western U.S. it makes perfect sense that the animals they encountered would carry Spanish names that would became English words.
Here are a few.
Spanish explorers likely stumbled across them when they first arrived in the New World in the early 16th century. While they may have been familiar with the Latin word crocodrillus, they would have had no reason to connect it to the the large reptiles living in the bayous and waterways they crossed. Instead these creatures were dubbed el lagarto, the lizard, eventually becoming the word alligator that we know today.
Originally found from South America into the desert southwest of the U.S., these striking raptors no longer enjoy the continuous range they held prior to habitat loss. In Texas, reintroduction efforts have proved somewhat successful, with evidence of breeding along the southern coast. The Spanish word aplomado — lead-colored, plomo meaning lead — is generally accepted as a reference to their bluish-grey plumage. However, an alternate translation could just as easily be the adjective poised or self-confident. This may be born out by descriptions of a New World bird introduced to European courts in the 16th century, praised as "high mettled," which some believe to have been the Aplomado Falcon.
Profiled earlier this summer in a Mammal Monday post, this little digger is our state mammal. A diminutive form of the Spanish word for armored (armaduro or armado), the armadillo was so named for the banded shell that covers its body.
This isn't an animal so much as it's an attitude. A mainstay of rodeos across the western US, these horses are bred for the temperament to throw off their rider. The word bronco translates to rough and accurately describes the bucking they give to rodeo athletes.
A burro is a donkey, and a donkey is an ass. It's as simple as that. Well, almost. The domesticated donkey is descended from the African wild ass and has been a working animal for at least 5,000 years. First arriving in Europe on the Iberian Peninsula via the Straits of Gibraltar, they can be found immortalized as pack animals in Spanish rock paintings dating to 2,000 BC. The word donkey appears in the written record in 1784, although by that time they'd already been in the Americas for nearly 300 years. Given their introduction by Spanish explorers and conquistadores it makes sense that they would carry with them the Spanish word for donkey — borrico — which in turn became the burro we use today. Burros are protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West." Finally, a little recognition for these hard working equines.
National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the history, culture and contributions Hispanic Americans have made, and continue to make, to our country. Celebrated nationally since 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, encompassing the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.