From hiraeth to washi: discover the latest words added to the Collins Dictionary

Language experts are in broad agreement that English has one of the richest vocabularies of any language. Speakers of English have about twice as many words at their disposal than speakers of Spanish or Chinese have. This abundance is due to the way English was born out of a collision between the Romance language tradition of Southern Europe and the Germanic tradition of Northern Europe. English plundered words from both traditions and made them work together. As the centuries have rolled on English has not been shy about taking words from other world languages too.

Yet, despite this enormous hoard of words, there are still occasions when the lexicon is unable to name a concept that is recognized by another language. If English speakers find it useful to talk about the happiness you get at someone else’s misfortune, they have to resort to the German word ‘Schadenfreude’; if they want to talk about a sudden thrill of pleasure, they use the French word ‘frisson’.

We call these borrowings from other languages ‘loan words’ – although there is no suggestion that the words are ever to be given back to their original owners. Instead, English often likes to hold onto them and quietly forgets that they originally came from elsewhere.

This process of borrowing from other languages is still ongoing, and can be seen in some of the words that have been added to the Collins Dictionary recently. One example is the Welsh word hiraeth, which describes a nostalgic longing for a place that can never be revisited. This is often said to be an emotion that is characteristically Welsh, but English speakers have found the word fills a useful gap in their own language and started to use it themselves.

A borrowing from somewhat further afield is washi, which is the name given to a type of decorative paper originating from Japan. This high-quality product has now caught the eye of the wider world as a resource for crafting, especially in the adhesive form known as washi tape. And so ‘washi’ is following the path of other Japanese words such as ‘origami’, ‘karaoke’, and ‘sudoku’ and being welcomed into the English dictionary.

Written by Ian Brookes, writer and editor.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

Other Articles

11 new words in Collins Dictionary, October 2022

At a time of great change in the United Kingdom’s political and royal spheres, as well as continuing conflict in Ukraine, it is not surprising that several new biographical entries have been added to From Ukraine, we have president Volodymyr Zelensky and Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, included with brother… Read More

9 new words in Collins Dictionary, May 2022

Japanese comics and animated films have contributed four new entries to Collins English Dictionary online in its most recent update: jousei, seinen, shonen and shojo. Each of these genres features a different type of protagonist and is so designed to appeal to a particular audience. Some appealing food and cookery… Read More

9 new words in Collins Dictionary, February 2022

Not for the first time, concerns about our climate and environment are writ large in a batch of additions to Collins English Dictionary online. We find sets of parallel terms: ‘green hydrogen’ is produced without emissions of carbon dioxide, and one of its counterparts, ‘blue hydrogen’, is produced with relatively… Read More