Eight English Words that Come from Czech Origins

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The Czech language shares a number of both real and false friends in English, and many English terms that have been incorporated into Czech.

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But did you know that there are a handful of common English-language terms that were originally Czech words?

Robot

Okay, you already knew this one. The word ‘robot’, invented by writer Karel Čapek for his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), was derived from the Czech word robota, meaning manual labor.

Polka

The term for the traditional Czech dance (possilby) comes from Půlka, meaning half, referring to the tempo. The exact etymology is debated (it might also be named after the term for Polish people, Polák), but the term is certainly Czech.

Kolache

The traditional Czech pastries, from the Czech word koláč, may not be as well known throughout the English-language world as some of the other words on this list, but they’ve been surging in popularity in southern US states recently.

Howitzer

Though Germanized, the term for this piece of field artillery comes from the Czech word houfnice, which dates back to the cannons used in the 1420s Hussite Wars. A howitzer is defined as any cannon capable of both high-angle and low-angle trajectory.

Pistol

The general English-language term for a handgun or type of handgun comes from the Czech word píšťala, which again dates back to the Hussite Wars and refers to one of the earliest examples of a firearm or “hand cannon.”

Semtex

The plastic explosive was originally created for use by the Czechoslovak military in the 1960s, and named after Semtín, the town in the Pardubice region where it was originally manufactured.

Pilsner

Of course. The term for this particular style of beer comes from Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), the world’s first-ever pilsner-style lager.

Tunnelling

Not in the literal sense, but when used as a term for financial fraud the word most likely dates back to Czech origins in the 1990s, when newly-privatized companies went bankrupt after management transferred assets to their own personal corporations. This type of fraud was termed tunelování, and the fraudster a tunelář.

And there you have it. Out of the Eight terms, three refer to weaponry, one to beer, one to a dessert, and another to financial fraud. Make of that what you will.

Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee

The versatile Danny Lee has been living in Prague and writing about the Czech capital for the past 15 years. You've probably read his work in the past without even knowing it.
Daniel Lee
About Daniel Lee 291 Articles
The versatile Danny Lee has been living in Prague and writing about the Czech capital for the past 15 years. You've probably read his work in the past without even knowing it.

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