List of English words of Niger-Congo origin

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

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
  • chimpanzee – loaned in the 18th century from a Bantu language, possibly Kivili ci-mpenzi.[1]
  • dengue – possibly from Swahili dinga
  • 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)
  • isangoZulu meaning gateway
  • jumbo – from Swahili (jambo or jumbe or from Kongo nzamba "elephant")
  • kalimba
  • Kwanzaa – recent coinage (Maulana Karenga 1965) as the name of a "specifically African-American holiday", abstracted from a Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits [of the harvest]".
  • 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.[2]
  • tsetse – from a Bantu language (Tswana tsetse, Luhya tsiisi)
  • ubuntuNguni term for "mankind; humanity", in South Africa since the 1980s also used capitalized, Ubuntu, as the name of a philosophy or ideology of "human kindness" or "humanism".
  • vuvuzela – musical instrument, name of Zulu or Nguni origin
  • zebra – of unknown origin, recorded since c. 1600, possibly from a Congolese language, or alternatively from Amharic.
  • zombie – likely from West African (compare Kikongo zumbi "fetish", Kimbundu nzambi "god"), but alternatively derived from Spanish sombra "shade, ghost".

Non-Bantu West African origin[edit]



  1. ^ "chimpanzee" in American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011.
  2. ^ Tilapia etymology
  3. ^ The Etymology of 'Buckaroo', Julian Mason, American Speech, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Feb., 1960), pp. 51–55,