Can You Spell These Simple Spanish Words That the English Language Has Stolen?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Back in old Europe, Spain and England had an uneasy relationship. These not-quite neighbors had diplomatic relations, occasional royal intermarriages, and clashes between their formidable navies for centuries. But it took the exploration of the New World for their languages, both descended from Latin, to become close cousins. 

Much of America's Old West was originally occupied and settled by Mexicans, descended, in part, from Spanish settlers. For this reason, many words from the world of ranching -- including "ranch" itself -- are adapted from Spanish. One of the more famous ones, the Western slang term "buckaroo," is descended from "vaquero," meaning "cowboy." (Don't worry, that's not a spoiler -- we didn't include that one in the quiz.) Spanish has also contributed many words for foods to the English language. This isn't surprising, given that Mexican recipes and ingredients are the basis for most of Southwestern U.S. cuisine. From "jalapeno" to "Tabasco," Spanish colors the language like it flavors the food. 

Are you ready to test your skills at spelling these Spanish loanwords? One thing, before you start: Some of these words are exactly the same in English and Spanish, but more often the English word has a slightly Anglicized spelling. We won't try to trick you by using the Spanish version as one of the four choices. We're always looking for the correct English spelling among three misspelled variants. 

Clear? Okay! Buena suerte!

This word means a pen for livestock.

Many words relating to the Old West come from the Spanish language. This is, in part, because much of present-day New Mexico, Arizona and California once belonged to Mexico.

At this event, cowboys show off their skills.

At a rodeo, you can watch cowboys, ranch hands or professional rodeo athletes show off their riding and roping skills. The original pronunciation was "ro-day-o," like the street in Los Angeles.

This word means a party.

Do Spanish speakers refer to "fiestando" the same way that we refer to "partying"? Just wondering.

This adjective about a man is not usually a compliment.

In English, the word "macho" implies an aggressive or not entirely convincing attempt at masculinity. Think of Will Ferrell in many of his roles.

As everyone will tell you if you get it wrong, this is a fruit, not a vegetable.

It's not a big surprise that quite a few words for food come from Spanish, when they were introduced from the Latin American world. In Spanish, the spelling is a little different: "tomate."

This is a loop of rope used to catch livestock.

"Lasso" can be a noun or a verb. To "lasso" an animal is to catch it by throwing a looped rope.

This word means a central square or gathering spot.

This word is also related to "piazza" in Italian. "Plata" in Spanish means "silver."

This is a raised, flat outcropping of land.

You might recognize this from the city of Mesa, Arizona. The word "mesa" means "table" in Spanish.

Puff, don't draw deep.

You probably knew this one because of cigars' longtime association with Cuba. The Spanish word is "cigarro."

Once just a building material, it is now a suite of software.

"Adobe" means "mud brick" and was a common building material in the Old West. Nowadays, it's also the design suite that includes Photoshop.

This word means "little fly" in Spanish.

The Spanish word for fly is "mosca." Oddly, it turns from feminine to masculine in "mosquito."

This is a deep gorge in the surface of the Earth.

A canyon is a gorge or ravine on a grand scale. Its original Spanish spelling was "canon."

This is a name for a mountain range.

You might find this word familiar from the Bogart film, "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Or from California and Nevada's Sierra Nevada mountain range.

This is a fancy word for earthquake you often hear or read in news coverage.

"Temblor" is Spanish for "shaking" (as a noun, not a verb form). English adopted it as a word for "earthquake," but the more common word for "earthquake," in Spanish, is "terremoto."

This word literally means "small war."

This word, which is spelled with two r's and two l's, means "little war." It's derived from the idea that a war fought by individuals in small skirmishes is "little" compared to that fought with armies and navies.

This is a word for bullfighter (or an AMC car of the 70s).

"Matar" means "to kill" in Spanish. Bullfights often do end with the death of the bull, which is why animal-rights activists oppose them.

This is a word for a person who is passionate about something.

Fun fact: This word was popularized by Ernest Hemingway, who discovered it when he was fascinated with bullfighting. A person with "aficion" for the sport really *got* bullfighting in a way that other people didn't.

You might buy furniture for this at Home Depot.

This can mean "courtyard," "play yard," or "parade ground" in Spanish. In English, it's usually a paved outdoor area just behind a house.

New York's Guardian Angels are this kind of group.

In Spanish, "vigilante" is an adjective meaning "vigilant." (It's one of many cognates). A "vigilante nocturno" is a night watchman or guard.

This word means "small fleet."

"Flota" alone is Spanish for fleet. "Flotilla" is the diminutive, and is often used loosely in English: "A flotilla of paper airplanes sailed down from the upper balcony."

This animal got its name because it looks like it's wearing plates of armor.

Diminutives in Spanish are often formed with "-illo" or "-ito." So "armado," for "armed," turns into "armadillo," or "little armed (thing)."

This grows well in the American southeast.

This comes from the Spanish "tabaco." It is entirely a New World crop, introduced to Europe after explorations to Latin America.

This is a place ships dock at, or sail from.

This is a tricky one to spell. It might help to be familiar with San Francisco, whose east shoreline is known as the Embarcadero district.

You might know this word from _____ pants or _____ cult.

This is from the word "cargar," meaning "to load up." Fun fact: A "cargo cult" means a recently-developed religion based on the expectation of material gains. That is, when explorers from advanced nations dropped crates of goods onto beaches, the natives might have developed a cargo cult that sees them as gods.

This has become one of America's favorite types of Mexican food.

This literally means "little burro," which sounds inauspicious to us. "What's in this?" "Oh, a little burro."

According to national guidelines, ketchup isn't a vegetable, but this is.

This means "sauce," unsurprisingly. One maker uses the slogan, "Es una salsa ... muy salsa!" which means "It's a very saucy sauce!"

This is the name of a weather event.

This comes from the Spanish "huracan." That word is, itself, a borrowing from a South American tribal language, as Spain is not prone to hurricanes.

This drink went multi-platinum in the late 2000s.

Maybe Americans like it for its resemblance to the word "mojo." In Spanish, "mojar" simply means "to moisten."

You might see this sexy dance on "Dancing With the Stars."

The rumba is a slow dance with a lot of hip action. A "Roomba" is the automated vacuum cleaner that cats like to ride.

You might use this on a fishing trip.

This is adapted from the Spanish word "canoa." Spanish explorers first saw Native Americans using these narrow, dugout crafts.

This is the well-known Spanish word for "good."

It's rare to find an American who doesn't know this one. But they might use it interchangeably with "bien," the adverb for "well."

This is the Spanish word for "tomorrow."

It's spelled like "banana," but is pronounced like "manyana." It helps if you imagine the tilde over the first n.

This word can be followed with "luego" or "la vista."

"Hasta" means "until." "Hasta la vista," popularized by its use in the movie "Terminator 2" and an MC Hammer song, is an honorary English phrase by now.

California's Highway 101 is also called El _______ Real.

Though in everyday conversation, Americans don't use "camino" for "road," we've borrowed it a lot for road names, like "El Camino Real," meaning, "The Royal Road." There was also a funny hybrid truck called a Chevy El Camino.

Hershey is famous for this.

The Spanish adapted this from a Nahuatl word, xocolatl. Both coffee and chocolate were imported to Europe from the New World. It makes you wonder, how did anyone get anything done in pre-exploration Europe?

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