It is known that Britain's history of invasion goes as: Celtic arrival, Roman domination, Saxon settlement, Nordic settlement, Norman invasion. If England's identity was largely made from the Saxons (eventually Anglo-Saxons), and there are almost no Celtic words left besides proper nouns, how come there is a significant number of English words that came from Latin, even after excluding borrowings and loanwords from French, if the Saxons and Vikings supposedly overrode any culture there?

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    I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Nearly all Latin borrowings in modern English were borrowed after the Norman invasion, most of them from the 14th century onwards. Latin loan words preceding Anglo-Saxon times are very rare indeed. Apr 23, 2020 at 12:48
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    @ewawe Most of those are from Anglo-Saxon times (i.e., they were borrowed from Latin into Old English). If I’m understanding the question here correctly, William would have expected more words to remain from when the Romans were in charge before the Angles and Saxons and whatnots came to Britain, and there are indeed very few of those. There are more, though still not all that many, from Old English, but Middle English is where it really took off. Apr 23, 2020 at 15:33
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    Take a look at this homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6361Lovis.htm
    – Alex B.
    Apr 23, 2020 at 17:55
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    My favorite examples of Celtic loanwords in English are car and slogan.
    – Alex B.
    Apr 23, 2020 at 20:13
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    "significant number of English words that came from Latin, even after excluding borrowings and loanwords from French": which words did you have in mind? Can you give an example of such a word that came from Latin but did not come from French? The words I can think of in that category came even later on, not earlier.
    – phoog
    Apr 23, 2020 at 22:08

4 Answers 4


During the Middle Ages, Latin was the language of scholarship throughout Europe. Many Medieval Latin words were imported directly into English, either to express concepts that had no exact English equivalent, or to show that the writer/speaker knew Latin and was therefore a learned scholar and presumably authoritative.

  • This is the right answer that I ended up figuring out by myself. Thanks for putting it here. The others mostly miss the point and you even get a downvote; this site has really been crumbling down.
    – user22430
    Apr 29, 2020 at 0:30

As jk says, there are very few Latin loans in English from pre-Saxon times. English does have quite a lot of words borrowed from Latin and Romance, but the vast majority of them come from well after the Saxon invasion.

It's worth noting also that there was a lot of contact between Latin/Romance and Germanic all throughout Europe. When we see Latin words attested from Anglo-Saxon times, it's likely that they were borrowed into Saxon before the invasion, rather than persisting from the Latin spoken by Roman colonists.

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    I like the second paragraph a lot. It would be nice if you could add some examples if possible. Also, it doesn't answer the question, but misunderstands its premise. I asked why there are so many Latin words, not whether they came from pre-Saxon or not. I did some research and it seems that a lot of Latin words, many ending with '-um', came from Medieval Latin instead.
    – user22430
    Apr 24, 2020 at 0:34

Some Latin loans in Anglo-Saxon are really old borrowings that were acquired by the West Germanic speakers from the Romans on the continent (fenester "window", modern German Fenster belongs into this category), other were introduced by Christian missionaries. Since anything Christian was foreign to the Anglo-Saxons they used a lot of borrowed words for religious terminology. I have also heard (but no hard reference on this) that the Christian missionaries deliberately replaced a lot of the heathen religious vocabulary with foreign terms in order to cut the old traditions off.

I'd be very interested in hearing of any words except place names that were borrowed from British Vulgar Latin.

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    (Part of)The question actually reads - why there are none from Celtic?
    – tum_
    Apr 23, 2020 at 16:20
  • I was concentrating on the last sentence of the question "how come there is a significant number of English words that came from Latin, even after excluding borrowings and loanwords from French, if the Saxons and Vikings supposedly overrode any culture there?" by doubting that the Anglo-Saxons borrowed from Anglo-Romance. Apr 23, 2020 at 16:26
  • What is Anglo-Romance?
    – Alex B.
    Apr 23, 2020 at 19:10
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    @AlexB. Searched for a better term and substituted it with "British Vulgar Latin" Apr 23, 2020 at 19:44
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    @William "Defenestrate" means this in English, e.g. the defenestrations of Prague. Apr 24, 2020 at 3:16

Because that's called Gaelic.

The Celtic cultures, and (to a lesser extent) the Celtic people, were largely pushed up into Scotland or over into Ireland. The new settlers who displaced them were Latin-speaking Romans, then Germanic-speaking Angles, Saxons and Vikings, followed by French-speaking Normans.

For the language to adopt significant numbers of words from Celtic, there would have needed to be an overlap between the cultures (e.g. like the French-speaking Normans ruling over the Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons), rather than a displacement.

Incidentally, this tangentally relates to why many 'processed' foods come from French (e.g. "Beef", from "bov", meaning "cow"/"ox"/"cattle") - the language spoken by the Nobles, either because they were newly arrived or attempting to ingratiate themselves with the new leadership - while the name of the source plant or animal comes has German roots (e.g. "Cow", from "Kuh") - the language spoken by the serfs and villein. In other words: did you work to raise it in one form, or afford to eat it in another?

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    The Celtic peoples in what is now England weren't Gaels, weren't pushed into Irish or Scottish territory (though they might have been pushed out of Scotland by Gaels, if the Picts spoke Brittonic), and didn't give up their language in favour of Latin. At the time of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, the language of England and Wales was Common Brittonic, just beginning to separate into its daughter languages.
    – Cairnarvon
    Apr 24, 2020 at 20:38

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