Are There Any Words That Are the Same in Multiple Languages?

Monday, December 43 min read

You say “toe-may-toh,” and I say “toe-mah-toe.” While this playful phrase highlights the differences between British and English accents, there are many words that are extremely similar across multiple languages. Linguists call these terms “cognates,” meaning they share the same root word or origin. Here are several words that travel across borders and languages, always staying recognizably similar.


The edible chocolate known and loved today comes from the cacao bean, first grown thousands of years ago in the Amazon basin. These beans were so valuable for flavoring food and drink that the Indigenous people traded the beans as currency when Europeans arrived in the region. The word “chocolate” was first used in European and Mexican writings in the late 1500s — “chocolate” was the Pipil people’s word in the Nahuat language for a cacao bean drink.

As the cacao bean traveled the world, the word “chocolate” became associated with the taste of any of the sweet treats made with the bean, even if they weren't beverages. Today, whether we call it chocolat (French), čokoláda (Czech), shokolad (Hebrew), or chokolid (Korean), we’re still enjoying an item grown and produced by Indigenous Americans thousands of years ago.


This delicious caffeinated beverage first appeared in Yemen around the 15th century. One early name for the drink — qahwah — comes from the Sufi Muslims of Mocha. It is derived from a longer phrase that means “wine of the bean.” There are several accounts from different Europeans who encountered a dark, hot beverage in the Middle East around the late 16th century, and the spellings for the drink include “chaube,” “cavee” “caova,” and “cahue.” By the 18th century, coffee was part of Europeans’ everyday life.

The term “coffee” eventually became the standard spelling for the drink in English circles, and other languages adopted similar phonetics. From the French café and German kaffee to the Hindi kofee and Afrikaans koh-fee, the word has stayed remarkably the same across the globe.


While many world languages refer to this tropical fruit as ananas, in English, it’s a pineapple. The fruit was first called nanas (which meant “excellent fruit”) by the South American Indigenous Tupi-Guaraní people. European explorers came across the fruit in the late 1400s and called it a pineapple, because they thought it resembled a pinecone.

Today, the fruit is called a pineapple in English, piña in Spanish, and pinya in Tagalog. However, many more languages use the Tupi version — including French (l'ananas), Swedish (ananas), and German (ananas).


Being the most recently coined word on this list has helped “taxi” become more widely adopted across the planet. Horse-drawn carriages for hire were ferrying passengers around London as early as 1605, but the word “taxicab” is a late-19th-century invention. With the advent of gas-powered cars (cabs) came a need to measure the distance and the fare. The device to do that was called a taximeter, taken from the French taxe (“tariff”) and mètre (“measuring”). The taximeter monitored the rides of taxicabs, which soon became shortened to just “taxis.” Today, more than 20 languages use some version of the word “taxi,” making it easier for travelers everywhere to hail a ride.


For the most part, two versions of the word “tea” are used worldwide, and we would recognize both in English. One is a variation of “tea,” and the other is a version of the word “chai,” from Hindi. Both terms come from China, where these goods originated hundreds of years ago.

According to some linguists, the “tea” versions are used in countries where traders would have traveled by sea to bring the beverage to locals, such as England (tea), Italy (), and the Netherlands (thee). The “chai” variations are popular in areas where the leaves would have come via the Silk Road, such as Korea (cha), India (chay), Russia (chay), and Arab countries (shay).

Featured image credit: RoterPanther/ iStock

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