Commonly used French words & phrases in the English language
Parlez vous francais? With the exception of Choy Arnaldo, who is veritably a Parisian, most of us couldn’t make out what’s written on a menu card in a French restaurant and would always be in danger of mistakenly ordering the maitre’d instead of the chateaubriand.
Quite a few of the guys in Grupo58 would be sixty nine years of age, an interesting set of two digits that’s a trifle embarrassing on the face of it. It could be said that at this age our libido expressions may now be limited to a few half cocked attempts and that there is a need to boost this with verbal promiscuity to make our machismo more palpable to an audience that probably ignores us in the most part. Still we need to do that to make the assertion (mostly to one’s self) that we are still serviceable despite looking like we just stand and wait as the darling buds of May flit by. A bit of risqué thought at age sixty nine...if you can’t hack it just eat it.
What might help to assuage this old age malaise will be to add a little French flavour to our everyday interaction with our friends and associates. A smattering of French words and phrases in our conversation and in our written communications could liven up our relationships with the world around us and about us. More importantly, even it doesn’t really make us sexy it makes us feel sexy...a pose that refreshes. Just a word of caution, a little French erringly used could lead to severe indigestion from ordering a chewy escargot or a stinging slap from a lady who thought she was being proposed to indecently.
The English language is dynamic and one of the factors that make it so is its ability to absorb foreign additions with facility, thus, further making it rich, vibrant and ever interesting. There are a big number of French words and phrases which have been welcomed by the English language and they are used with ease and have contributed to the elegance and a touch of class to the written and spoken word. From a huge number (more than double that of my shortened list) of French words and phrases assimilated into English I chose to shortlist by including only those that are most commonly used (my judgment).
As in most cases, foreign words and phrases must be used sparingly and appropriately lest they give others the impression of quaintness and contrivance.
So, here’s the list. Bonne chance!
in the manner of/in the style of […]
literally: on the menu; In restaurants it refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal.
idiomatic: in the style; In the United States, the phrase is used to describe a dessert with an accompanying scoop of ice cream (example: apple pie à la mode).
regarding/concerning (note that the correct French syntax is à propos de)
farewell; literally means "to God," it carries more weight than "au revoir" ("goodbye," literally "Until re-seeing"). It is definitive, implying you will never see the other person again. Depending on the context, misuse of this term can be considered as an insult, as one may wish for the other person's death or say that you do not wish to see the other person ever again while alive. It is used for "au revoir" in south of France and to denote a deprivation from someone or something.
dexterous, skillful, clever, in French: habile, as a "right-handed" person would be using his "right" hand, as opposed to his left one with which he would be "gauche" meaning "clumsy."
"memory aid"; an object or memorandum to assist in remembrance, or a diplomatic paper proposing the major points of discussion
a before-meal drink (in colloquial French, it is shortened as "apéro"). In French, it means either the drink or food (amuse-gueules) taken before a meal. Also, in France, even if one is supposed to eat after an apéritif, it is socially accepted to take your meal at home, therefore one can have an apéritif at a bar (with or without friends), or at a friend's before going back home.
après nous, le déluge
literally: After us, the deluge, a remark attributed to Louis XV of France in reference to the impending end of a functioning French monarchy and predicting the French Revolution. The Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, famously known as the "Dambusters," uses this as its motto. The chorus of Regina Spektor's song Après Moi also references this phrase.
a narrow ridge. In French, also fishbone; edge of a polyhedron or graph; bridge of the nose.
a type of cabinet; wardrobe.
a style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It takes a capital in French (Art nouveau).
a person attached to an embassy; in French it is also the past participle of the verb attacher (= to fasten, to tighten, to be linked)on the contrary.
up-to-date; abreast of current affairs.
"See you later!" In French a contraction of Au plaisir de vous revoir (to the pleasure of seeing you again).
avant-garde (pl. avant-gardes)
applied to cutting-edge or radically innovative movements in art, music and literature; figuratively "on the edge," literally, a military term, meaning "vanguard" (which is a corruption of avant-garde) or "advance guard," in other words, "first to attack" (antonym of arrière-garde).used in Middle English,
avoir de pois = commodities sold by weight, alteration of Old French aveir de peis = goods of weight
a classical type of dance
literally "beautiful gesture", a gracious gesture, noble in form but often futile or meaningless in substance
monumental architectural style of the early 20th century made famous by the Académie des Beaux-Arts
a period in European social history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I.
literally "fine letters"; literature regarded for its aesthetic value rather than its didactic or informative content; also, light, stylish writings, usually on literary or intellectual subjects
unimpressed with something because of overfamiliarity, jaded.
literally "good appetite"; enjoy your meal
well-chosen word(s), particularly a witty remark
one who enjoys the good life, an epicurean
literally "good journey"; have a good trip!
"good day," a standard greeting in the morning or afternoon
"good luck" (as in, 'I wish you good luck')
member of the bourgeoisie. The word used to refer to shopkeepers living in towns in the Middle Ages. Now the term is derogatory, and it applies to a person whose beliefs, attitudes, and practices are conventionally middle-class.
small ornamental objects, less valuable than antiques; a collection of old furniture, china, plates and curiosities. Cf. de bric et de broc, corresponding to our "by hook or by crook," and brack, refuse.
a sweet yeast bun, kind of a crossover between a popover and a light muffin; French also use the term as slang for 'potbelly', because of the overhang effect.
bureau (pl. bureaux)
office. Also means "desk" in French.
a coffee shop (also used in French for "coffee").
coffee with milk; or a light-brown color. In medicine, it is also used to describe a birthmark that is of a light-brown color (café au lait spot).
a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place (such as in an oubliette)
(1) unfounded rumor or anecdote. (2) a leading airfoil attached to an aircraft forward of the main wing. ('canard' means 'duck' in French)
unlimited authority; literally "white card" (i.e. blank check).
c'est la guerre!
"That's War!"; or "Such is war!" Often used with the meaning that "this means war," but it can be sometimes used as an expression to say that war (or life in general) is harsh but that one must accept it.
c'est la vie!
"That's life!"; or "Such is life!" or "It is what it is!" It is sometimes used as an expression to say that life is harsh but that one must accept it.
"That's great!"; literally it's magnificent.
a long chair for reclining; (also rendered chaise lounge or chase lounge by folk etymology).
a female singer
a diplomat left in charge of day to day business at a diplomatic mission. Within the United States Department of State a chargé is any officer left in charge of the mission in the absence of the titular chief of mission.
a person who is a fraud, a fake, a hoaxer, a deceiver, a con artist.
"look for the woman," in the sense that, when a man behaves out of character or in an otherwise apparently inexplicable manner, the reason may be found in his trying to cover up an illicit affair with a woman, or to impress or gain favour with a woman. First used by Alexandre Dumas (père) in the third chapter of his novel Les Mohicans de Paris (1854).
at the house of: often used in the names of restaurants and the like; Chez Marie = "Marie's"
a hairstyle worn in a roll at the nape of the neck
realism in documentary filmmaking
lit. negative; trite through overuse; a stereotype
a small exclusive group of friends; always used in a pejorative way in French.
"like this, like that"; so-so, neither good nor bad. In French, usu. couci-couça.
lit. communicated; an official communication.
a receptionist at a hotel or residence. As they have a reputation for gossiping, concierge is also a mild insult if you call anyone who is not a receptionist that (meaning you're a shameless gossiper).
a flirtatious girl; a tease
a policy of containment directed against a hostile entity or ideology; a chain of buffer states; lit. "quarantine line"
a funeral procession; in French has a broader meaning and refers to all kinds of processions.
the final blow that results in victory (literally "blow of mercy"), historically used in the context of the battlefield to refer to the killing of badly wounded enemy soldiers, now more often used in a figurative context (e.g., business). Frequently pronounced without the final "s" sound by English speakers who believe that any such sound at the end of a French word is supposed to be silent. In French this would sound like coup de gras, or "blow of fat."
fashion (usually refers to high fashion)
a fashion designer (usually refers to high fashion, rather than everyday clothes design)
a nativity display; more commonly (in the United Kingdom), a place where children are left by their parents for short periods in the supervision of childminders; both meanings still exist in French
a dessert consisting primarily of custard and toasted sugar, that is, caramel; literally "burnt cream"
best of the best, "cream of the cream," used to describe highly skilled people or objects. A synonymous expression in French is « fin du fin ».
a thin sweet or savoury pancake eaten as a light meal or dessert
a critical analysis or evaluation of a work, or the art of criticizing.
a crescent-shaped bread made of flaky pastry
a dead-end (residential) street; literally "Ass (bottom) of the bag." Even though "cul" is vulgar in French, this expression in itself is not. See also amuse-gueule.
an event or enterprise that ends suddenly and disastrously, often with humiliating consequences.
required or expected, especially in fashion or etiquette
excessive, "too much"
of inferior social status
a woman's garment with a low-cut neckline that exposes cleavage, or a situation in which a woman's chest or cleavage is exposed; décolletage is dealt with below.
the layout and furnishing of a room
a deposit (as in geology or banking), a storehouse, or a transportation hub (bus depot)
"already seen": an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
the end result
rear; buttocks; literally "behind"
partially clad or scantily dressed; also a special type of garment.
easing of diplomatic tension
a file containing detailed information about a person; it has a much wider meaning in modern French, as any type of file, or even a computer directory
the senior member of a group; the feminine is doyenne
a form of competitive horse training, in French has the broader meaning of taming any kind of animal
said of something fashionable or hip for a day and quickly forgotten; today's choice on the menu, as soup du jour, literally "of the day"
a type of perfume, originating in Cologne, Germany. Its Italian creator used a French name to commercialize it, Cologne at that time being under the control of France.
literally "grooming water." It usually refers to a aromatic product that is less expensive than a perfume because it has less of the aromatic compounds and is more for an everyday use. Can not be shortened as eau, which means something else altogether in French (water).
a cream and chocolate icing pastry
Great brilliance, as of performance or achievement. Conspicuous success. Great acclamation or applause
a distinctive flair or style
court hearing of the entire group of judges instead of a subset panel
"[be] on [your] guard," used in fencing, and sometimes mistranscribed as "on guard."
on the way
(je suis) enchanté(e)
"(I am) enchanted (to meet you)": a formal greeting on receiving an introduction. Often shortened to simply "enchanté."
a disruptively unconventional person, a "terrible child."
diplomatic agreement or cooperation. L'Entente cordiale (the Cordial Entente) refers to the good diplomatic relationship between France and United Kingdom before the first World War.
confidentially; literally "between us"
literally "entrance"; the first course of a meal (UK English); used to denote the main dish or course of a meal (US English).
a person who undertakes and operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the inherent risks
writing desk; spelled "écritoire" in current French
"spirit of the body [group]": a feeling of solidarity among members of a group; morale. Often used in connection with a military force.
a musical composition designed to provide practice in a particular technical skill in the performance of an instrument. French for "study."
small ornamental case for needles or cosmetics
extraordinary, usually as a following adjective, as "musician extraordinaire"
the front view of an edifice (from the Italian facciata, or face); a fake persona, as in "putting on a façade" (the ç is pronounced like an s)
lit. accomplished fact; something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed, a done deal. In French used only in the expression "placer/mettre quelqu'un devant le fait accompli" meaning to present somebody with a fait accompli.
false, ersatz, fake.
"false step": violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules
"deadly woman": an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men for her personal goals, after which she discards or abandons them. It extends to describe an attractive woman with whom a relationship is likely to result, or has already resulted, in pain and sorrow.
betrothed; lit. a man/woman engaged to be married.
a cooking procedure in which alcohol (ethanol) is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames, meaning "flamed" in French. Also used colloquially in reference to something on fire or burned.
a lit torch
a stylized-flower heraldic device; the golden fleur-de-lis on an azure background were the arms of the French Kingdom (often spelled with the old French style as "fleur-de-lys")
fatty liver; usually the liver of overfed goose, hence: pâté de foie gras, pâté made from goose liver. However, "foie gras" generally stands for "pâté de foie gras" as it is the most common way to use it.
an overpowering and unforeseeable event, especially when talking about weather (often appears in insurance contracts)
literally "boy" or "male servant"; sometimes used by English speakers to summon the attention of a male waiter (has a playful connotation in English but is condescending and possibly offensive in French)
tactless, does not mean "left-handed" (which translates in French as "gaucher"), but does mean "left"
a type or class, such as "the thriller genre"
a specialized soldier, first established for the throwing of grenades and later as elite troops
one who regularly frequents a place
"high sewing": Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion
upscale gastronomy; literally "high cooking."
"outside the [main] work": appetizer
an innocent young man/woman, used particularly in reference to a theatrical stock character who is entirely virginal and wholesome. L'Ingénu is a famous novella written by Voltaire.
I love you. Implies "I like you" too. The French word "aimer" implies all the different kinds of love (love = like). To differentiate the two, one would say simply "je t'aime" to one's love whereas one would say "je t'aime bien" (lit. I love you well) to a friend.
"joy of life/living"
"let do"; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference. The phrase is the shortcut of Laissez faire, laissez passer, a doctrine first supported by the Physiocrats in the 18th century. The motto was invented by Vincent de Gournay, and it became popular among supporters of free-trade and economic liberalism. It is also used to describe a parental style in developmental psychology, where the parent(s) does not apply rules or guiding.
a type of fabric woven or knit with metallic yarns
a set of clothing and accessories for a new baby
a close relationship or connection; an affair. The French meaning is broader; "liaison" also means bond such as in "une liaison chimique" (a chemical bond)
coarse lace work made with knotted cords
young unmarried lady, miss; literally "my noble young lady"
motion sickness, literally "seasickness"
a general sense of depression or unease
supplies and equipment, particularly in a military context (French meaning is broader and corresponds more to "hardware")
a confused fight; a struggling crowd
"household for three": a sexual arrangement between three people
social environment; setting (has also the meaning of "middle" in French.)
my friend (male) or 'mon amie': my friend (female)
monsieur (pl. messieurs)
a man, a gentleman. Also used as a title, equivalent to Mr. or Sir.
a recurrent thematic element
a whipped dessert or a hairstyling foam; in French, means any type of foam
"born": a man’s/woman’s birth name (maiden name for a woman), e.g., "Martha Washington, née Custis."
"nobility obliges"; those granted a higher station in life have a duty to extend (possibly token) favours/courtesies to those in lower stations
pseudonym to disguise the identity of a leader of a militant group, literally "war name," used in France for "pseudonym"
author's pseudonym, literally "pen name." Originally an English phrase, now also used in France
newly rich, used in English to refer particularly to those living a garish lifestyle with their newfound wealth; see also arriviste and parvenu.
a work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture
"work," in the sense of an artist's work; by extension, an artist's entire body of work
lit. chewed paper; a craft medium using paper and paste
by air mail. The meaning is broader in French, it means by plane in general.
"by excellence": quintessential
a social upstart.
a close relationship between two people; in ballet, a duet.
a derivative work; an imitation
a dialect; jargon
lit. father, used after a man's surname to distinguish a father from a son, as in "George Bush père."
"foot-on-the-ground" or "foothold"; a place to stay, generally applied to the city house as opposed to the country estate of the wealthy
literally "pinch nose," a type of spectacles without temple arms.
an architectural term referring to a kind of porch or porticolike structure.
"poser": a person who pretends to be something he is not; an affected or insincere person: a wannabe
"ready to wear" (clothing off the shelf), in contrast to haute couture
a man/woman who receives support from an influential mentor.
"reason for being": justification or purpose of existence
to be in someone's "good graces"; to be in synch with someone; "I've developed a rapport with my co-workers"; French for: relationship
scouting; like connoisseur. Modern French uses an "a," never a "o" (as in reconnoissance).
meaning rebirth, a cultural movement in the 14-17th centuries
répondez s'il vous plaît. (RSVP)
Please reply. Though francophones may use more usually "prière de répondre," it is common enough. (Note: RSLP ["Répondre s'il lui plaît"] is used on old-fashioned invitations written in the 3rd person, usually in "Script" typography — at least in Belgium.)
An artificial lake
a restaurant owner
A quick retort in speech or action, or in fencing, a quick thrust after parrying a lunge
an openly debauched, lecherous older man
subversive destruction, from the practice of workers fearful of industrialization destroying machines by tossing their sabots ("wooden shoes") into machinery
one who commits sabotage
lit. jumped; quickly fry in a small amount of oil.
those who can should save themselves. Used as a pragmatic response to an accident. Equivalent to the English "every man for himself."
"knowing": a wise or learned person; in English, one exceptionally gifted in a narrow skill.
literally "know how to do"; to respond appropriately to any situation.
the image of a person, an object or scene consisting of the outline and a featureless interior, with the silhouetted object usually being black
an assumed name, a nickname (often used in a pejorative way in French)
an evening party
a very small amount (In French, can also mean suspicion)
"soup of the day," meaning the particular kind of soup offered that day.
chalkboard. The meaning is broader in French: all types of board (chalkboard, whiteboard, notice board…). Refers also to a painting (see tableau vivant, below) or a table (chart).
"head to head"; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people.
the process of dressing or grooming. Also refers in French, when plural ("les toilettes"), to the toilet room.
acknowledgment of an effective counterpoint; literally "touched" or "hit!" Comes from the fencing vocabulary.
"feat of strength": a masterly or brilliant stroke, creation, effect, or accomplishment.
lit. everything (else) following; "at once," "immediately" (according to the Oxford English Dictionary).
very (often ironic in English)
very good (feminine form). When used to describe a woman's physical attributes, it's vulgar in French.
"face to face [with]": in comparison with or in relation to; opposed to. From "vis" (conjugated form of "voir," to see). In French, it's also a real estate vocabulary word meaning that your windows and your neighbours' are within sighting distance (more precisely, that you can see inside of their home).
"[long] live the difference"; originally referring to the difference between the sexes, the phrase may be used to celebrate the difference between any two groups of people (or simply the general diversity of individuals)
literally "see there"; in French it can mean simply "there it is"; in English it is generally restricted to a triumphant revelation.
lit. someone who sees; a peeping tom.