The French have a word for it

Over the centuries the English language has assimilated phrases and words from other languages. Here are some examples.


A cappella, Italian, sung without instrumental accompaniment (literally “in chapel style”)

Ad hoc, Latin, made or done for a particular purpose (lit. “to this”)

Agent provocateur, French, a person who tempts a suspected criminal to commit a crime so that they can be caught and convicted (lit. “provocative agent”)

Al dente, Italian, (of food) cooked so as to be still firm when bitten (lit. “to the tooth”)

Alfresco, Italian, in the open air (lit. “in the fresh”)

Bête noire, French, a person or thing one particularly dislikes (lit. “black beast”)

Blitzkrieg, German, an intense, violent military campaign intended to bring about a swift victory (lit. “lightning war”)

Carte blanche, French, complete freedom to act as one wishes (lit. “blank paper”)

Caveat emptor, Latin, the buyer is responsible for checking the quality of goods before purchasing them (lit. “let the buyer beware”)

C’est la guerre, French, used as an expression of resigned acceptance (lit. “that’s war”)

Chacun à son goût, French, everyone to their own taste

Chef-d’oeuvre, French, a masterpiece (lit. “chief work”)

Coup de foudre, French, love at first sight (lit. “stroke of lightning”)

De facto, Latin, in fact, whether by right or not

D�jà vu, French, the sense of having experienced the present situation before (lit. “already seen”)

Dernier cri, French, the very latest fashion (lit. “the last cry”)

Deus ex machina, Latin, an unexpected event that saves an apparently hopeless situation (lit. “god from the machinery”)

Dolce far niente, Italian, pleasant idleness (lit. “sweet doing nothing”)

Doppelg�nger, German, an apparition or double of a living person (lit. a “double-goer”)

Double entendre, French, a word or phrase with two possible interpretations (from obsolete French, “double understanding”)

Eminence grise, French, a person who has power or influence without holding an official position (lit. “grey eminence”)

Enfant terrible, French, a person whose behaviour is unconventional or controversial (lit. “terrible child”)

Esprit de corps, French, a feeling of pride and loyalty uniting the members of a group (lit. “spirit of body”)

Fait accompli, French, a thing that has been done or decided and cannot now be altered (lit. “accomplished fact”)

Femme fatale, French, a seductive woman (lit. “disastrous woman”)

Haute couture, French, designing and making of clothes by fashion houses (lit.“high dressmaking”)

In camera, Latin, in private (lit. “in the chamber”)

In loco parentis, Latin, in the place of a parent

Inter alia, Latin, among other things

Jeunesse dor�e, French, wealthy, fashionable young people (lit. “gilded youth”)

Katzenjammer, German, a hangover or severe headache accompanying a hangover (lit. “cats’ wailing”)

Laissez-faire, French, a non-interventionist policy (lit. “allow to do”)

Magnum opus, Latin, the most important work of an artist, writer etc (lit. “great work”)

Manqu�, French, having failed to become what one might have been (lit. from manquer “to lack”)

Memento mori, Latin, something kept as a reminder that death is inevitable (lit. “remember (that you have) to die”)

M�nage à trois, French, an arrangement in which a married couple and the lover of one of them live together (lit. “way of living”)

Mot juste, French, the most appropriate word or expression

Ne plus ultra, Latin, the best example of something (lit. “not further beyond”)

Non sequitur, Latin, a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous statement (lit. “it does not follow”)

Nouveau riche, French, people who have recently become rich and who display their wealth ostentatiously (lit. “new rich”)

Papabile, Italian, worthy or eligible to be elected pope

Pied-à-terre, French, a small flat or house kept for occasional use (lit. “foot to earth”)

Prima facie, Latin, accepted as so until proved otherwise (lit. “at first face”)

Quid pro quo, Latin, a favour or advantage given in return for something (lit. “something for something”)

Raison d’être, French, the most important reason for someone or something’s existence (lit. “reason for being”)

Reductio ad absurdam, Latin, a method of disproving a premise by showing that its logical conclusion is absurd (lit. “reduction to the absurd”)

Sangfroid, French, the ability to stay calm in difficult circumstances (lit. “cold blood”)

Soi-disant, French, self-styled; so-called (lit. “self-saying”)

Sui generis, Latin, unique (lit. “of its own kind”)

Tant mieux, French, so much the better

Tête-à-tête, French, a private conversation (“head to head”)

Vox populi, Latin, public opinion (lit. “the voice of the people”)

Zeitgeist, German, the characteristic spirit or mood of a particular historical period (lit. “time spirit”)

© Oxford University Press 2007

(c) Times online


August 31, 2007


1 Response to “The French have a word for it”

  1. September 5, 2007 at 4:01 pm


    Right from your name to Doppelganger to Carte Blanche to Zeitgeist, all my favourite words are here…

    Thanks for teaching me a few new ones… it is for me a big kick to be using such expressions in my writing or conversation.

    Ciao !


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