List of English words of African origin

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This is a list of English language words that come from the languages of Africa. It excludes placenames except where they have become common words.

Words of African origin[edit]

Words of Bantu origin[edit]

  • banjo – probably Bantu mbanza
  • basenji – breed of dog from the Congo
  • boma – probably from Swahili
  • bwana – from Swahili, meaning an important person or safari leader
  • chimpanzeeBantu chimpenze, from nchima ("blue monkey") and mzee "respectable gentleman" [clarification needed]
  • dengue – possibly from Swahili dinga
  • fundi – from Ndebele, Xhosa, or Zulu umfundi "disciple, learner, craftsman"
  • funk – from kikongo lu-fuki "bad body odor"
  • gnu – from Bushman !nu through Khoikhoi i-ngu and Dutch gnoe
  • goober – possibly from Bantu (Kikongo and Kimbundu nguba)
  • gumbo – from Bantu (Kimbundu ngombo meaning "okra")
  • impala – from Zulu im-pala
  • impi – from Zulu language meaning war, battle or a regiment
  • indaba – from Xhosa or Zulu languages – 'stories' or 'news' typically conflated with 'meeting' (often used in South African English)
  • jumbo – from Swahili (jambo or jumbe or from Kongo nzamba "elephant")
  • kalimba
  • Kwanzaa – from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits".
  • lapa – from Sotho languages – enclosure or barbecue area (often used in South African English)
  • macaque – from Bantu makaku through Portuguese and French
  • mamba – from Zulu or Swahili mamba
  • marimba – from Bantu (Kimbundu and Swahili marimba, malimba)
  • okapi – from a language in the Congo
  • safari – from Swahili travel, ultimately from Arabic
  • sangoma – from Zulutraditional healer (often used in South African English)
  • Tilapia – Possibly a latinization "thiape", the Tswana word for fish.[4]
  • tsetse – from a Bantu language (Tswana tsetse, Luhya tsiisi)
  • ubuntu – African ideology, from the saying "uMntu ungumntu ngaBantu" – "a human is a human through humans" – Bantu languages
  • vuvuzela – musical instrument, name of Zulu or Nguni origin
  • zebra – possibly from a language in the Congo
  • zombie – Central African (Kikongo zumbi, Kimbundu nzambi)



  1. ^ The Etymology of 'Buckaroo', Julian Mason, American Speech, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Feb., 1960), pp. 51–55,
  2. ^ "chimp definition |". Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Tilapia etymology