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This is a Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, in which I chose a word, well-know or otherwise, and discuss why I think it’s so wonderful.

Poncho

  /ˈpɒntʃoʊ/

Noun:

1. A blanket-like cloak with a hole in the center to admit the head, originating in South America, now often worn as a raincoat.

Etymology:

1717; from American Spanish; from Araucanian pontho; ‘woolen material’. Perhaps influenced by Spanish poncho, variant of pocho;discoloured fabric’

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English speakers have always been strangely proud of speaking a ‘pure’ language; with linguists and self-professed martyrs of the language defending it against being destroyed over time or by contact with other language.

However, these people seem to be turning a blind eye to the processes which formed the English we know today.

Not only is English a West Germanic language, influenced by Old Norse during the Viking Ages and French due to the Norman conquest, but it is influenced by more languages than we can count.

This is, in part, due to the rich diversity of the British Isles, but it is also due to colonisation.

Not only did Brits take goods, such as tea and spices, land and people during colonisation, but language was also adopted.

In some cases, this was due to a lack of need in English to talk about, say, a wombat, until arriving in Australia and seeing one for the first time. Using the aboriginal word makes more sense than creating a new word.

In the case of today’s word, poncho, it was a slightly more convoluted process.

Yes, English speakers went to Chile and adopted a word for something they didn’t have a word for. But that word did not have the same meaning as today’s accepted meaning for poncho. Probably, someone referred to their cloak as being pontho and whoever heard them thought that it was called that, rather than being made from pontho; woolen material.

On top of that, people were no longer simply trading with, or, indeed, plundering, a country, but were settling in North America. Here, a melting pot of different languages meant that the word pontho made contact with Spanish, and, in the confusion, changed to poncho.

It’s a lovely word; it sounds feisty and quirky, which seems to suit the thing it’s now used to refer to.

I’m really excited about my next Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, because it’s on Q, which is incredibly fun! (I’m also very aware of how geeky this makes me sound.) So, please vote on what word I should write on!

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