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English words that became Maltese and vice versa

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The Maltese language is known for its rich heritage, with words originating from a variety of languages that reflect the history of a country conquered and inhabited by people from various nations. Each nation brought its own terms and expressions that left a mark on our current language. Amongst these, of course, were the British. 

As years rolled into centuries, words morphed and changed and other newer ones were added to the Maltese dictionary along the way. Kelma Kelma, a Facebook page dedicated to celebrating the Maltese language, helped us put together a snapshot of how the English language influenced the Maltese language. But guess what? It seems that Maltese is also infiltrating into the English dictionary.



The Maltese language borrows many words from English. Some words, like ċans (chance, with plural ċansijiet), evolved to sound slightly different to the original version. Other more modern words, like kompjuter (computer), are however pronounced the same way as the English version. Did you know that the process also worked in reverse, with Maltese words making it into the English dictionary?



Defined as "a boat resembling a gondola, used in Malta", this entry is a strangely spelt version of the Maltese word dgħajsa which means 'boat'. The English version oddly maintained the Maltese silent letter 'għ' but replaced the 'j' with an 'i'. Why? 



Often seen on postcards, the karrozzin is "a horse-drawn cab used in Malta". So saying something on the lines of "I caught the karrozzin to Mdina" is, technically, perfectly good English.



Even the good old lampuka made it into the dictionary where it is "a large marine food fish, Coryphæna hippurus or C. equisetis". 



This lovely word is living proof that it’s not only the Maltese that can butcher a word beyond recognition. The word 'spitchered' means "rendered inoperative, ruined" and is derived from spiċċa which means "to finish". 



And then there are those words that like to disguise themselves as legitimate English words - but are not. In fact, very often their meaning is miles apart from the original English version, although sometimes there is a loose connection.



This has all the makings of an English word, but it’s not used in English. This Maltese-created term is used to refer to what the English call a goalkeeper, keeper or goalie. Perhaps it’s a fusion of the words 'goal' and 'keeper'? Or our ancestors might have (mis)interpreted 'goalie' as 'goaler'? Or at some point they must have observed that many agent nouns, like driver, cleaner, writer, painter, end in 'er' and by analogy formed 'goaler'.



In English muscles refer to the body’s muscles — the ones that make Popeye strong after he eats lots of spinach. In all fairness, we can see the link here, since children wearing armbands looks like they have big muscles. 



Here’s a mind boggler. When the word 'learner' is used in Maltese, people are actually referring to an instructor - that is someone who’s teaching and not learning. So they’d say something like: "Il-learner qalli biex nagħfas il-gass" which means "the driving instructor told me to hit the accelerator".



We all know that a pocket is a small compartment sewn into trousers or other clothing items where we can keep small objects, like coins. When used in Maltese, however, 'pocket' means "pencil box". 



When a child falls and hurts, the Maltese-speaking parents would cover the scratch with a 'stick'… as in a band-aid and not an actual wooden stick, thank goodness. 



You’ll often hear people say that they just went out for a jog in their new ‘slipper’. No, they don’t mean their bed slippers. In Maltese, the word ‘slipper’, singular, is often used to mean running shoes or trainers. At least both are referring to some sort of shoe.



Ever played the game ‘telephone’? People line up and whisper the same sentence into each other’s ear. More often than not, when the sentence gets to the last person, it’s completely unrecognisable. Now imagine this happening over generations of people. That’s what happened to some English words that kept being used and passed down. They became fully integrated into the Maltese language - conjugations and all. 



Once upon a time, Polly put the kettle on. Fast forward a few hundred years and Polly, who is really Paulline, now turns on the kitla. So kettle evolved into kitla and when there’s more than one kettle, we talk about ktieli… which, believe it or not is a broken plural of Arabic origin.



And then came the dawn of the technology era that brought with it many fancy words - one of them being ‘microchip’. And here in Malta, as microchips became more talked about, the word became ċippa. And there were many ċipep.



We are a nation that loves our food and are proud of our national dishes, which we often serve in a dixx. And when we’re organising a large meal for family or friends, we bring out the biggest dixxijiet to serve our feast in.



According to Aquilina’s Dictionary, it is derived from the compound word “centre breech-loading shotgun”. But this was too much of a mouthful for our ancestors.  So they simply took the first word, ‘centre’, and morphed it into a noun which takes the broken plural snieter. Boom!



Maltese is a beautiful language. If you’re interested in exploring it further, why not take up Maltese private lessons? If you’re already familiar with the language, rediscover its power by reading a book penned by a Maltese author. You can get one from any of the bookshops listed on Yellow. 

Discover local through language - www.yellow.com.mt 


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