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You Speak Some ‘Nahuatl’ Even If You Don’t Know That

Nahuatl is a language spoken by almost 1.5 million people in Mexico but used to be the most common language spoken in the country before the Spanish conquest. Very difficult names to pronounce for English speakers, and even Spanish speakers (except Mexicans), like Popocatepetl or Nezahualcoyotl, come from this language also called ‘Mexican’.

Nahuatl words used in English and Mexican cuisine

But because Mexico is the place of birth for many delicious ingredients used in French, Italian and almost every cuisine in the world, nahuatl words have survived.

You might not be able to say complicated words like Iztaccihuatl (a name of a volcano in Mexico) but sure you can say chocolate, tomato, and chili. And maybe because of these words, nahuatl could be one of the most delicious and spicy languages in the world.

The Royal Academy of Spanish (RAE) has adopted more than 200 words from nahuatl but English speakers also have accepted some of them. Most of them have a Spanish ending with “ate” or “ote”. Here are some examples:

  • Guacamole comes from ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (salsa)
  • Avocado: ahuacatl (testicle)
  • Chocolate: xococ (bitter) and ātl (water)
  • Tomato: tomal (fat) and atl (water)
  • Tamale: tamalli (wrap)
  • Metate: métlatl (molar)
  • Coyote: coyotl (barking dog)
  • Ocelot: ocelotl (wild cat)
  • Mexico: meztli (moon) and ihco (center)
  • Nicaragua (where the Anahuac kingdom ends)