Learn English – Latin words borrowed from Roman occupation


English has a lot of words borrowed from Latin. The great majority were borrowed in the 14- and 1500's from Church/Medieval Latin, a huge influx via educated neologism.

I'd like to know if there are any more words that were borrowed into English directly via Vulgar Latin and not through Old French/Norman or Church Latin. That is, I'm looking for those words that because of the Roman invasion and occupation of England, native Latin words were transferred naturally into the local population (yes, I am vaguely aware that the occupation by the Empire was over by the time that Angles and Saxons came to the island, but vague handwaving blah blah life is complicated blah blah).

My expectation is that the set is very very small.
I already know of 'street', '-chester', 'inch':

  • street – from Latin 'strata' constructed road
  • -chester – (ending of town names) from Latin 'castrum' (better explanation at castle – from Latin 'castel' village)
  • inch – from Latin 'uncia' for 'one twelfth'

What are some others, if any?

(hat tip for this question to cerberus and tchrist)

Best Answer

From The Families of Words, Mario Pei (Harper & Bros, 1962), page 11:

Even Anglo-Saxon, however, borrowed from the Latin and Greek of the missionaries who came to Christianize the heathen Saxon, or of the earlier Roman merchants who traded with the Germanic tribes while they were still on the European mainland......(church, (but this is from Greek circe), street, cheese (L. caseus), kitchen (L. coquina), mint, minster are a few"

On p.38, Pei adds "...cheap (Anglo-Saxon ceapian derived from Latin caupo "merchant") and shrive (Latin scribe)."

If these routes are interesting — traders with Germanic tribes and missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons — see Wikipedia, Latin Influence in English for many more examples, all of which are guaranteed pre-1066, but don't seem to be from the Roman occupation of Britain.

The Germanic tribes who would later give rise to the English language (the Angles, Saxon and Jutes) traded and fought with the Latin speaking Roman Empire. Many words (some originally from Greek) for common objects therefore entered the vocabulary of these Germanic people via Latin even before the tribes reached Britain (what is known as the Continental or Zero Period):

Cognates of virtually all of these English words exist in the other Germanic languages.

I put in the Latin for the words in this long Wikipedia list from The Families of Words and from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.

There is also a list of words from Wikipedia for the missionaries.

Since the Romans had occupied Celtic Britain before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, there are also words of Latin that came to English via Celtic. A source for these words is Latin through Celtic Transmission: Latin Influence of the First Period from Latin Influences on Old English by Albert C. Baugh & Thomas Cable. Although the Celts adopted at least 600 words from the Latin, very few of them survived after the arrival of the Germanic tribes — perhaps only five outside of elements in place names.