Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




French Words/expression used in English


I'm currently reading Rick Chapman's in Search Of Stupidity and I've notice that he uses a lot of french expressions :

- "Deja Vu" (Already seen)
- "Faux pas" (Bad move?)

Is there a web site or a book which lists all the French expressions used in English ?

Are they widely used in the US ? UK ? Australia ?

French Poster
Saturday, May 22, 2004

They are widely used by all English speaking people, irrespective of nationality.

à propos, a good start for a list may be here " http://french.about.com/library/bl-frenchinenglish-list.htm "- sans the quotation marks.

KayJay
Saturday, May 22, 2004

because Rick Chapman is a regular on this board,

Tapiwa
Saturday, May 22, 2004

And French people use Latin expression to look smart (vice versa, sine qua non, etcetera, etc...)
It would be interesting to know if things are similar in other languages.

[Elephant,

Why do you want to delete this thread? It has nothing to do with software as many other threads in JoS. I read here more on India, US policy, Iraq and terrorism than in any other political forum I know.]

GinG
Saturday, May 22, 2004

and how could I NOT post an inane comment on this thread ? *grin*

deja vu
Saturday, May 22, 2004

+++I'm currently reading Rick Chapman's in Search Of Stupidity and I've notice that he uses a lot of french expressions :

- "Deja Vu" (Already seen)
- "Faux pas" (Bad move?)

Is there a web site or a book which lists all the French expressions used in English ?

Are they widely used in the US ? UK ? Australia ?+++

French phrases are widely used in contemporary American English.  I also tend to use bete noire, fin de cicle, nest' pas, oeuvre, je ne sais quoi, etc.

One reason for this may be that my wife has a tremendous talent for languages and is one of those annoying people who actually remembers the langauge(s) they're taught in high school, in her case, French (I have to practice to retain any of my Spanish).  As a result, I'm constantly watching French movies and picking up phrases and expressions.  Of course, I have to read the subtitles while she's just listening to the dialog.

rick

Rick Chapman
Saturday, May 22, 2004

+++I like to have sex with animals! Arrrgh! +++

The ass, no doubt.

rick

Rick Chapman
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Not to mention that whole thing with William the Bastard of Normandy affecting the English language.


Saturday, May 22, 2004

Yes, I've noticed that as well. It seems everybody tries to look smarter by peppering their speech/text with French words.

I find that EXTREMELY irritating, especially since a lot of those snotty fools can't even spell French properly.

I also find it quite hypocritical, with all that anti-French rethoric going on, especially since the war in Iraq. So it's "Freedom Fries", but we're allowed to say "voilà" or "touché"?

Je vous emmerde.

MediocreDev
Saturday, May 22, 2004

I think the anti-French sentiment is limited to those not intelligent enough to incorporate French phrases into their communications when appropriate.
I tend to use "vis-a-vis" somewhat regularly.

Brian
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"I think the anti-French sentiment is limited to those not intelligent enough to incorporate French phrases into their communications when appropriate.
I tend to use "vis-a-vis" somewhat regularly. "

What does incorporating French in your speech have to do with intelligence? NOTHING. It's just trendy, that's all.

What's wrong with plain English? Instead of "vis à vis", use "towards" or some other synonym as the context warrants...

MediocreDev
Saturday, May 22, 2004

French has been intermingled  with the English language for around a thousand years, it seems a bit pointless to cavill at that now.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, May 22, 2004


Did Rick use the phrase "We Surrender" ? Because I think that phrase originated in France.

Mr. Petain
Saturday, May 22, 2004

I agree with Simon - what's the big deal?

yet another anon
Saturday, May 22, 2004

> "Faux pas" (Bad move?)

A mistake.

> ... bete noire, fin de cicle, nest' pas ...

... bête noire, fin de ciècle, n'est-ce pas ...

> "Je vous emmerde."

tr: "I annoy you."

> What does incorporating French in your speech have to do with intelligence?

Intelligent in the military sense: meaning "knowledgeable".

> What's wrong with plain English?

When I was young my Dad peppered his English speech with "μεν" and "δε" ("on the one hand ... on the other hand ...").

I can't immediately think of a plain English word for various things: "plateau" for example, the flat terrain at the top of a hill.

Apart from that, plain English speech is certainly most appropriate, for talking with people who only understand plain English; but, Rick believes his phrases are widely used, in contemporary American English.

Incidentally, French Poster, there are some entire phrases that I've seen used by people who are apparently anglophone: especially "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".

I also find that some words don't translate exactly: for example "La peur aime l'idée du danger." loses meaning in English, because "peur" taking an article anthropomorphises it, makes it like a concrete noun; or "Le malheur fait dans certaines âmes un vaste désert où retentit la voix de Dieu", because "âmes" doesn't translate well (people? spirits? souls? minds? bodies?), and neither does "retentit".

Probably every language is like that.

"I once heard a Welsh sermon in which the word 'truth' was repeatedly uttered in English. Apparently there is no exact equivalent in Welsh" - Geoffrey Madan

And, "efficient" is another word that's heard in Welsh.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Programming languages also accumulate idioms from others, and there's a definite tension between "pure" languages and ones which freely accumulate ideas.

The idea-accumulating languages have a bad rep because people immediately think of Perl, but in the end I think they are the best kind of programmer's language, as opposed to pure languages. They just need to give programmers control to evolve them.

Still though, a lot of damage may have been done by idiot philosophers dazzling their audiences with exotic French words.
"It was as if the translator, rather than helping us engage with ideas and argue over them, preferred to fetishize their foreignness and turn us into dazzled spectators of an exotic scene."
http://www.livejournal.com/users/avva/838701.html#cutid1

Tayssir John Gabbour
Saturday, May 22, 2004

> "μεν" and "δε"

... which loses something in the translation. <g>

Christopher Wells
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Using French words can indeed be pretentious, but then again sometimes there's no English equivalent. I don't even think these phrases can count as French any more, anyway -- they're pretty much assimilated into the English language, and their meaning is no longer same as the literal translation.

But as it's pretentiousness you don't like, I'm surprised at the use of "synonym", "context", "incorporating" and the use of the passive voice :)

Tom
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"Faux pas" is, more strictly, a (possibly gauche, usually social) blunder, rather than a mistake. Farting at the table, asking for fish knives when eating with the Queen (and calling her "Lizzie"), that kind of thing.

Tom
Saturday, May 22, 2004

----"I also tend to use bete noire, fin de cicle, nest' pas, "---

A goood thing you don't use them in French; the French get quite uptight if you don't spell them correctly.

"bête noire, fin de siècle, n'est-ce pas?"

If you want to be able to write French accents correctly without undergoing the horrors of the French keyboard setup, then choose the Spanish one, which does for all Romance languages and has the umlaut as well.

There do seem to be three kinds of French words used in English: those that are accepted as being perfectly correct English words, such as mutton, commence or boudoir ; those that are perceived by English speakers as being French, but whch have in fact been taken into English and often have a very different meaning or construction such as 'vis-à-vis', 'au fait', 'après-ski' and 'bête noire'; and finally French words or phrases that have no meanng in English (for example 'n'est-ce pas?' or voilà!' or 'tout de suite') but are used by speakers who want to remind us they haven't forgotten their schooldays.

The second class of "French" words has its counterpart in many "English" in French such as "le footing" (jogging) or "le smoking" (tuxedo or smoking-jacket).

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"Yes, I've noticed that as well. It seems everybody tries to look smarter by peppering their speech/text with French words."

No, I just refuse to limit myself to a hammer and spackle knife when weaving language. First of all, terms like "faux pas," "facade" (I know - I don't feel like looking up the symbol for it), and "deja vu" have been in circulation in english for so long I'd be tempted to call them part of the english language (obviously something that would never happen in France [grin]).

Other times, I may use foreign terms, like n'est-ce pas, je ne sais quoi, or non because I simply don't feel there's an analogue in english speech, especially written speech, where you can't use inflection.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, May 22, 2004

----" n'est-ce pas, je ne sais quoi, or non because I simply don't feel there's an analogue in english speech, especially written speech, where you can't use inflection. "-----

so 'innit?', 'I dunno' and 'no' aren't in your vocabulary? As for inflection - well I have to admit there's nothing like a bit of gratuitious French to sound like an absolute twit (unless of course you're French, in which case a bit of English serves just as welll).

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004

And in response to the original poster's question "Is there a web site or a book which lists all the French expressions used in English ?", the answer is yes. That book is known as a dictionary. :-)

Seriously. Any decent English dictionary will include commonly-used words and phrases from other languages, often with basic etymologies that illustrate the origin of the term.

If it's an online resource you want, try dictionary.com.

John C.
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Incidentally, http://french.about.com/library/bl-frenchinenglish-list.htm

Of course I'm sure an etymologist can give a really good answer; I have an etymological dictionary which probably has an origin index. But the above link seems to cover the really obvious ones which retain a French flavor.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Saturday, May 22, 2004

""Faux pas" is, more strictly, a (possibly gauche, usually social) blunder, rather than a mistake. Farting at the table..."

Farting at the table a blunder?  Why, its celebrated (high-fives, etc.) at my house!

Air Biscuit
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"What does incorporating French in your speech have to do with intelligence? NOTHING. It's just trendy, that's all."

As others have said, something that has been done for hundreds of years is hardly trendy.  And I maintain that speaking precisely, using the "mot juste" is a sign of intelligence, or at least of learning.  Do you not agree?  Sometimes it's necessary to use a foreign word or phrase.  And few of the ones cited here are obscure - I wouldn't hesitate to use "fin de ciecle" around most of my peers.

"What's wrong with plain English? Instead of "vis à vis", use "towards" or some other synonym as the context warrants..."

True, "vis-a-vis" has very close English equivalents.  Sometimes you just need to change it up.  How many times can you say "with respect to" or "relating to" before you need to mix it up a little?

Brian
Saturday, May 22, 2004

http://www.brainyencyclopedia.com/encyclopedia/f/fr/french_phrases_used_by_english_speakers.html

Also covers seemingly French phrases that are not French.

Oren Miller
Saturday, May 22, 2004

J' doir allez au garrage pour fixxe mon flat.

FrenGlaise For Fun
Saturday, May 22, 2004

of course, anybody who says using French words is pretentious (or worse unpatriotic) should be humbled by the fact that the most famous use of them in English belongs to Yogi Berra.

"It's deja vu all over again."

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Why invent new expressions when other languages alreay have a perfectly good phrase.

English doesn't just borrow from French.  What about uber-whatever, wunderlust and zeitgeist?

And it isn't all one sided.  What would the French do if you tried to take away 'le Weekend?'

Ged Byrne
Saturday, May 22, 2004

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of "faux pas" in English was in 1676. "déjà vu", 1903. "bête noire", 1844. "vis-à-vis", 1755.

Considering how many words in English come from other languages, it's hardly fair to pick on French. Heck, "dictionary" comes from Latin! Boo! Ban it!

scruffie
Saturday, May 22, 2004

To all the pretentious fools who dare disagree with me ;o))~ :

It's true that French has been part of English for centuries, and there's even been times where the English Royal court used French almost exclusively - now that's trendy! But the fact is that if you compare regular U.S. English from 30 years ago and the contemporary flavor, I'll bet my left arm that there are WAY more French in today's speech. It's really trendy nowadays, and it's not only reserved to a certain part of society anymore... It's not in the Bronx yet though: "Yo, you made a faux-pas, fool!" ;-)

It is also true that other languages, and especially French, borrow a lot from English - it's not exclusive to English. While it is an interesting phenomenon, that might even lead to a sort of unified language several centuries from now, what annoys me is the social aspect of the thing. As some have said, there are perfectly valid ways to say much of that stuff in "pure" English. Just go read a few English Lit books, and you'll see what I mean.

And yes, screwing up the spelling, and especially the accents, makes you look like an ignorant snob. I can't count the times I've read "viola" instead of "voilà". The former is the verb "to rape" at the past tense...

MediocreDev
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Laissez tomber les mecs, en général vous faites plein de fautes lorsque vous écrivez des mots en français !

Belgian Fritkot
Saturday, May 22, 2004

MediocreDev

Wouldn't it still be "Yo, you made a fox-pass, fool!"  in the Bronx?

I intentionally like to 'anglisize' the words - specifically if there are any K-beckers around. Pisses them off big-time.

Uni-Linguist
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"I can't count the times I've read "viola" instead of "voilà". The former is the verb "to rape" at the past tense... "

Hmmm... considering some of the solutions I've hacked together, "viola" may in fact be more appropriate...

In the non-french vein, I also like "gestalt," and there's a German word I keep forgetting that means "to stare in horrified fascination" or something to that effect (which I'd like to work on getting to replace "like looking at a traffic accident")

Philo

Philo
Saturday, May 22, 2004

"Hmmm... considering some of the solutions I've hacked together, "viola" may in fact be more appropriate..."

Need. To. Refrain. From. Making. Anti-Microsoft. Joke. ARRFGRHHH I CAN'T!!!!!!!!!!!

Philo, that's to be expected from a Microsoft employee...

PHEW!! I feel better now.

C'est la vie, et on s'amuse comme des fous.

MediocreDev
Saturday, May 22, 2004

:-P

BTW, this thread reminds me of a quote from one of the recent spoof movies (maybe "Loaded Weapon"):

"Quid pro quo, Lieutenant, quid pro quo"
"What does that mean?"
"It means I'm pretentious."

Philo

Philo
Saturday, May 22, 2004

>>I can't count the times I've read "viola" instead of "voilà".<<

Just wait until the first time you get an e-mail that reads "blah blah blah, and walla it worked".

Before that, the only "walla" I'd run into was Walla Walla, Washington. I had to read the sentence about five times before I realized that the sender meant "voilà"!

John C.
Sunday, May 23, 2004

>there's a German word I keep forgetting that means "to stare in horrified fascination" or something to that effect (which I'd like to work on getting to replace "like looking at a traffic accident")<

Philo, you might be thinking of "schadenfreude", which, loosely translated, is "taking pleasure in the misfortune of others". The very existence of such a word speaks volumes about the speakers of the language...

I heard that there is actually no French word that has the same meaning as the "English" word "entrepreneur". I have always had a certain affection for the Greek word "hubris"...

Data Miner
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Lets not forget the danger of using French words when you don't really know what your talking about.

You can look very, very stupid.

"The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur."
- George W. Bush, discussing the decline of the French economy with British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Ged Byrne
Sunday, May 23, 2004

This is so common.. in all languages I am familiar with.

In my native English people say
* "ciao" from Italian - as do Bulgarians and Romanians.
* We drink "cappucino" (and cappuncinos - not cappucini as the Italians would say in plural form)
* We put RSVP on invitations
* we say kindergarten, gesundheit, schadenfreude, doppelganger from Germany

In my adopted land, Germany, we call people "teenagers", we buy concert "tickets", musician play in a "band"

That's life, not worth complaining about the language people use. It is always changing and adopting

Herr Herr
Sunday, May 23, 2004

<quote author="Data Miner">
Philo, you might be thinking of "schadenfreude", which, loosely translated, is "taking pleasure in the misfortune of others". The very existence of such a word speaks volumes about the speakers of the language...
</quote>

There is a word for that in English,  'gloat'. The very existence of a similar word in most other languages as well, speaks volumes about the human condition and its commonalities.

KayJay
Sunday, May 23, 2004

FWIW (probably not much): A number of French words are used in aviation -- fuselage, empenage, pitot, chandelle, etc.

Keith Moore
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Words of foreign origin are the norm. English is a hybrid language and only about 1 in 5 modern English words derive from Old English. English borrows from French, German, Arabic, Hindi, Greek, Latin, Norse, and so on.

Foreign phrases can be a good source of amusement. E.g. "per deum" expenses. I'm sure he meant quotidian rather than something godly.

N.B. it's "siècle" not "ciècle".

And who does not use a little latin, "i.e., e.g., p.s., n.b., etc."?

John Ridout
Sunday, May 23, 2004

English doesn't use plain english either: "keep it under your hat" instead of "keep it secret", etc.

Christopher Wells
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Philo, are you thinking of schadenfreude? (Satisfaction in the misfortunes of others -- literally damage-joy.)

I love that word.

Rupert
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Right as rain, Rick! By the way, can I have sex with your ass? 8-P

Elephant
Sunday, May 23, 2004

> Laissez tomber les mecs, en général vous faites plein de fautes lorsque vous écrivez des mots en français !

Faisons-nous «plein de fautes», ou «pleins de fautes»?

Christopher Wells
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Often times when foreign expressions are used, they don't retain their original meaning.  Since the adopters (referring to the masses at large, rather than an individual) don't actually speak the language, they really only know the word in context and perhaps rough translation, and therefore tend to apply it when it might not exactly fit.  But then that usage too becomes commonplace, and so the word/phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

For example, the German noun "Spiel", translates to "play" (as in a theater performance, or a game).  But in the americanized usage of "He went off on a Spiel about the middle east," it means a rant or discourse.

I don't really find the use of foreign vocabulary in and of itself to be pretentious.  Of course, it certainly can be used that way, but that's the speaker's pretentiousness, not that of the language.

Also, I think there is probably some correlation between Americans perceiving the use of French as pretentious, and the typical American stereotype that the French themselves are pretentious.

Joe
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Christopher, since you ask, it is in fact "plein de fautes".

:D

FritesPower
Sunday, May 23, 2004

"Pretentious" is one of those marker words like "elitist" or "intellectual" or "condescending" that more often than not tells you more about the speaker than his subject.

When Fred says "Bill is such a pretentious ass," it's usually a dead giveaway that Bill made Fred feel stupid or ignorant, but Fred has nothing impressive to say about Bill's positions, so he's left with no other face-saving route than to turn the subject to Bill himself.  Occasionally that's not the case, but most often it is.  Smart, knowledgeable people don't tend to be hurt by other people's pretensions, because they can't be made to feel stupid, even when their positions and beliefs are seriously threatened.  (Thinking people feel no shame in discovering their position was weak or even wrong, and are happy to adjust or discard any of their beliefs to account for new facts or good arguments to the contrary.)

"Elitist" in even more fun in this regard, because it belies the laughable delusion that everybody has something valuable to contribute.  But "condescending" is the coup de grace in this group, as a surefire marker for low self-esteem.  Its use outright proclaims "Bill makes me feel stupid."

But I might be wrong about this.  I'm just a condescending, pretentious, faux-intellectual and elitist snob, after all.  And a pompous boob to boot.  Did I mention arrogant?

Murphy
Sunday, May 23, 2004

"But I might be wrong about this.  I'm just a condescending, pretentious, faux-intellectual and elitist snob, after all.  And a pompous boob to boot.  Did I mention arrogant?"

We're all entitled to our self-righteous delusions...

MediocreDev
Sunday, May 23, 2004

>>> I'm just a condescending, pretentious, faux-intellectual and elitist snob, after all.  And a pompous boob to boot.  Did I mention arrogant?

You are just a regular Joe with regular job, an average white, suburbanite slob.

.
Monday, May 24, 2004

. - very witty, I managed to avoid bursting into song at work.  It wouldn't down well - especially given the chorus. 

a
Monday, May 24, 2004

Chaque a son gout (each to his own)

Faux Amis (false friends, as in foreign words that sound like English words but actually mean something completely different, the schoolboy classics being  yes (in french) and Father (in german).

detente

etc

WoodenTongue
Monday, May 24, 2004

The French have a word for everything!

Dave
Monday, May 24, 2004

... except "shallow".

Christopher Wells
Monday, May 24, 2004

"yes (in french) and Father (in german)"

Could you elaborate on that? "Yes" doesn't exist in French, nor "Father" in German, and the French/German equivalents (oui/Vater) certainly have the same meaning as the English words.

Chris Nahr
Monday, May 24, 2004

<schoolboy_classics>
"Wee", and "farter"! ROFL!
</schoolboy_classics>

Christopher Wells
Monday, May 24, 2004

Oh my God... er, thanks for the enlightenment.

Chris Nahr
Monday, May 24, 2004

Anybody who thinks the use of French word/expressions in English is a "recent trend" hasn't read any 19th century novels.


English is fairly unique in that it has absolutely no problem with borrowing words. (Hence the huge vocabulary of the language, close to twice that of other languages). Other countries make a big deal of trying to "preserve" the native language, coming up with awkward translations of borrowed words, etc. The French are famous for this, but other countries do it too. This tendency then fights against the tendency of people to latch onto new words - either to seem "cool", or simply because the borrowing expresses an idea that doesn't have a direct equivalent in the native language.

Personally, I dislike it when people use a borrowed word when there's a perfectly adequate equivalent in the native language. It's ok to use Schadenfreude in English, because "gloat" just doesn't carry the same connotation. However, it would be pointless to use Schadenfreude in Hungarian, because there's an exact equivalent (káröröm) that could be used instead.

However, trying to force an awkward translation down people's throats when the borrowing is much more elegant is an exercise in futility, and doesn't really help anyone. I know that e.g. means "for example" and i.e. means "that is", but the Latin abbreviations are much shorter and serve their purpose much better than the English expansions, despite the equivalence in meaning. I also had to laugh at the recent French brouhaha about not using "email" (I forget what replacement they came up with).

What I really like, on the other hand, is borrowing a foreign word and then corrupting the heck out of it. :) Unlike the borrowings that are only meant to make the writer/speaker seem more intelligent, corrupted borrowings serve to enrich the entire language. Only in Hungarian does the word "farmer" mean a pair of pants (specifically, jeans). This process is really how English came to acquire its huge vocabulary.

Martha
Monday, May 24, 2004

Oh, and there are quite a few words that people have mentioned which, while their origin is certainly French, have long been accepted as proper English words in their own right. Façade/facade is the one I can recall at the moment, but there are others. (I.e. 'façade' is the French word. In English, it's spelled 'facade', and is not a French word anymore.)

Martha
Monday, May 24, 2004

<quoted from Martha>
also had to laugh at the recent French brouhaha about not using "email" (I forget what replacement they came up with).
</quote>

The official French replacement for "email" is "mel" (Message ELectronique). I can accept this.
But I feel really stupid when I see French magazines and officials using "cédérom" instead of CD-ROM. The French academy invented this word to replace the English acronym. Go figure why!

GinG
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

My German sisters wonder why I don't like to be called Andi (German version of Andy, short for Andre/Andreas), when they visit me. In Germany it's pronounced like "Undie" and that creates quite some attention in public places in the United States. Imagine "Undie, come over here"

Don't Call me Undie
Friday, June 04, 2004

<schoolboy classics>
How about this German one:
http://www.mein-preisvergleich.de/fasermaler_rondini_extra-1320de1306275.htm

German -> English
-----------------------
Extra -> additional, spare
Dick  -> thick
Fasermaler -> Feltpen

Now order a "Fasermaler Extra Dick" having this indecent shape for your kids in this German toystore (no batteries required).

</schoolboy classics>

Don't Call me Undie
Friday, June 04, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home