This article takes as its starting point the extent of borrowing in Middle English among the hundred meanings included in the Leipzig–Jakarta List of Basic Vocabulary, a recently developed tool for exploring the impact of borrowing on basic vocabulary on a cross-linguistic basis. This is adopted for the possibility it provides for taking an empirically based approach to identifying at least a proportion of those loanwords that have most impact on the core lexicon. The article then looks in detail at a particularly striking example identified using this list: the verb carry, borrowed into English in the late fourteenth century from Anglo-Norman, and found with some frequency in its modern core meaning from the very beginning of its history in English. The competition this word shows with native synonyms, especially bear, is surveyed, and the systemic pressures that may have facilitated its widespread adoption are explored, as well as the points of similarity it shows with some other borrowings into the core vocabulary of Middle English; in particular, the hypothesis is advanced that a tendency towards isomorphism in vocabulary realizing basic meanings may be a significant factor here. The article also contends that the example of carry sheds new light on the receptivity of even basic areas of the lexicon to Anglo-Norman lexis in the late Middle English period. The trajectory shown by this word is particularly illuminating, with borrowing in a restricted meaning with reference to the commercial bulk transportation of goods, merchandise, etc. being followed by very rapid development of a much broader meaning, which even within the fourteenth century appears in at least some varieties (notably the works of Chaucer) to be a significant competitor for native bear as default realization of the basic meaning ‘to transfer/carry (something, especially in one's hands)’.