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10 Common Words in Spanish and English That Come From Quechua

The post by Juan Arellano was originally published on the blog Globalizado.

Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire, has had nearly 500 years of contact with Spanish, so it makes sense that each language has influenced the other. The most obvious way, besides the distinctly Quechua flavor that permeates the speech of those bilingual in both languages, are loan words. Everyday Quechua includes many words of Spanish origin, and visa versa, although sometimes that is not as well known.

A large amount of words for animals and agricultural products in Peru were incorporated with slight modifications into Spanish from Quechua, such as llamaguanacovicuna (just to name South American camelid species), potato (papa), quinoa, avocado (palta) and lucuma. But there are many more words that you might not realize came from Quechua.

The following is an informal and non-exhaustive list.

1. Cancha (soccer field)

[Player] Arruabarrena on @SoloBocaRadio: “A Boca fan must see himself reflected on the field by his team.”

This word, which comes from the Quechua kancha, is used throughout Spanish-speaking America to describe the site where a game, especially a soccer game, is held. But it has also other, more local meanings. For example, toasted corn is called also cancha or canchita…yum.

2. Poncho

This word is used almost globally, but the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy, the Madrid-based institution which publishes guidelines for the Spanish language) does not recognize it as Quechua.

The word's origin is uncertain; however, the Quechua word punchu has the same meaning, so unless there is an opinion to the contrary, we have decided to include it on this list. Poncho can also have a different meaning in some South American countries, for example, in this usual usual phrase: No dejarse pisar el poncho (Don't let yourself step on the poncho), which means that you shouldn't let yourself be humiliated or intimidated.

3. Cura (priest)

The doomsday priest give a mass in Antártida.

Cura is a colloquial word for a priest. It's used in almost all Spanish-speaking South America, and its origin is the Quechua word kuraq or kurakas, used to refer to the head of a community in the Inca Empire. The phrase hijo de cura (son of a cura), which at one time was considered an insult referring to a person's illegitimate birth, is used in some places as a sarcastic comment to point out that someone is being overlooked.

4. Gaucho (Argentinian cowboy)

The word gaucho, which refers to cowboys from the Pampas region in the north of Argentina, is used worldwide to refer to Argentinians in general. Its origin may be related to the Quechua word wakcha, which means orphan, and it has gave rise to the Peruvian word huacho, that means alone.

5. Morocho (dark-skinned person)

It's difficult to understand why no one asks for this morocho. Would you like to meet him?

Morocho comes from the Quechua word muruch'u, which is a variety of hard corn. Its most common meaning in Spanish is a dark-skinned person. In some countries, it is used for people with fair skin but black hair. By extension, it also applies to animals with black skin. In Ecuador, morocho is a delicious thick drink.

6. Chacra (ranch)

Veterinary school and management make progress on the Veterinary Hospital project at a chacra in Brío, Uruguay 

In several South American countries, the word chacra is used instead of ranch, meaning a house surrounded by cultivated fields in a rural area. It comes from the Quechua word chajra or chakra, meaning a small partition of arable land. In Peruvian slang, chacra means that something is badly done.

7. Chullo (hat with earflaps)

Some artists like to wear this Peruvian fashion garment, whose name comes from Quechua, as an exotic touch. The term comes from ch'ullu, meaning a cap with earflaps, traditionally made of alpaca wool.

8. Carpa (tent)

Information carpa at Vallmoll. Good atmosphere and good company 

In South America and in Spain, including in Catalan, which is spoken in Catalonia (the above tweet is in Catalan), a carpa is a tent; even a big circus tent is called a carpa. The word karpa is its Quechua origin. Some South American countries have a more colloquial use of this word: Estar carpa (to be like a circus tent), a phrase with a very adult meaning.

9. Pucho (cigarette butt)

That is the way to study… pucho and Coca-Cola

This word, which comes from the Quechua word puchu, is generally used to describe cigarette butts or half-smoked cigars, though it is also used in some countries to describe a whole cigarette. In others countries, when it is used as part of the phrase sobre el pucho, it means immediately or at once.

10. Guano

Guano comes from the Quechua word wanu, and was originally used to name the seabird droppings used as fertilizer. By extension, it is also used to describe other animal droppings. Its use is more widespread than you might think.

Go Quechua go!

PS: No linguist was mistreated while writing this post.

Others posts in English about Quechua:

5 Free Apps, Podcasts and Blogs to Learn Quechua 
Languages: Let's Tweet ans Speak in Quechua

  • Seth Schoen

    The etymology given for “cura” is questionable: English and French both have a word “cure” referring to the office or function of a priest, which is known to be from Latin cura ‘care, concern’, and the Diccionario de la lengua española agrees that the Spanish term also came from the same Latin word “cura. (Del lat. cura, cuidado, solicitud).”

  • Thomas C.

    The word “avocado” traces its roots back to Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, not to Quechua.

    • L. Finch

      The word referred to in this post isn’t “avocado” in English or “aguacate” in Spanish, but “palta” in Spanish, which also means avocado. Thanks for pointing out that this isn’t clear, I’ll add the Spanish words back in to the post.

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