Common French words, also common … in English!!

Written by on November 23, 2011 in Words And Phrases
French-WordsSo you think you can’t speak French and it’s going to be really hard to learn?  It is estimated that around 70% of the words used in the English language are the same or very similar to the French equivalent words.  The problem is more in the pronunciation but here are just a very few of the most commonly used words on both sides which we hope you’ll find useful:
A
à gogo In abundance
à la […] In the manner of/in the style of […]
à la carte Literally – on the menu; in restaurants it refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal
à la mode 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).However, in French, it is a culinary term usually meaning cooked with ale and some carrots and onions (example: boeuf à la mode)
Adieu 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
Adroit Dexterous, skilful, 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”
Aide-mémoire “Memory aid”; an object or memorandum to assist in remembrance, or a diplomatic paper proposing the major points of discussion
Aperitif 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
Armoire Type of cabinet; wardrobe
Art nouveau A style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It takes a capital in French (Art nouveau)
Attaché 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)
Au contraire On the contrary
Au fait Being conversant in or with, or instructed in or with
Au pair A young foreigner who does domestic chores in exchange for room and board.
Avant-garde 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)
B
Ballet A classical type of dance
Beau geste Literally “beautiful gesture”, a gracious gesture, noble in form but often futile or meaningless in substance
Belle Époque A period in European social history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I
Blasé Unimpressed with something because of overfamiliarity, jaded
Bon appétit Literally “good appetite”; enjoy your meal
Bon vivant One who enjoys the good life, an epicurean
Bon voyage Literally “good journey”; have a good trip!
Bourgeois 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
Bouquet A handful of flowers
Bric-à-brac Small ornamental objects, less valuable than antiques; a collection of old furniture, china, plates and curiosities
Brunette Brown-haired girl. For brown-haired man, French uses brun and for a woman brune. “Brunette” is rarely used in French, unless in old literature, and its masculine form, “brunet” (for a boy), is almost unheard of
Bureau Office. Also means “desk” in French
C
Cache Collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place (such as in an oubliette)
Café Coffee shop (also used in French for “coffee”)
Carte blanche Unlimited authority; literally “white card” (i.e. blank cheque)
Chaise longue A long chair for reclining; (also rendered chaise lounge or chase lounge by folk etymology).
Charlatan A person who is a fraud, a fake, a hoaxer, a deceiver, a con artist.
Chauffeur Driver
Chic Stylish
Chignon A hairstyle worn in a roll at the nape of the neck
Cliché Literally negative; trite through overuse; a stereotype
Clique A small exclusive group of friends
Comme ci, comme ça “Like this, like that”; so-so, neither good nor bad. In French, use. couci-couça.
Communiqué Literally communicated; an official communication
Concierge Receptionist at a hotel or residence
Contretemps An awkward clash; a delay
Cortège A funeral procession; in French has a broader meaning and refers to all kinds of processions
Coup de grâce 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.
Couture Fashion (usually refers to high fashion)
Couturier Fashion designer (usually refers to high fashion, rather than everyday clothes design)
Crèche 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
Crème de la crème 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”
Critique Critical analysis or evaluation of a work, or the art of criticizing.
Cul-de-sac Dead-end street; literally “arse [buttocks] of the bag”. Even though “cul” is vulgar in French, this expression cul de sac is not.
D
Debacle An event or enterprise that ends suddenly and disastrously, often with humiliating consequences.
De rigueur Required or expected, especially in fashion or etiquette
Décolleté 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.
Décor The layout and furnishing of a room
Decoupage Decoration with cut paper
Depot A deposit (as in geology or banking), a storehouse, or a transportation hub (bus depot)
Déjà vu “Already seen”: an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
Derrière Rear; buttocks; literally “behind”
Détente Easing of diplomatic tension
Dieu et mon droit Motto of the British Monarchy; appears on a scroll beneath the shield of the coat of arms of Great Britain
Divertissement An amusing diversion; entertainment
Dossier 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
Doyen The senior member of a group; the feminine is doyenne
Dressage A form of competitive horse training, in French has the broader meaning of taming any kind of animal
Droit du seigneur “Right of the lord”: the purported right of a lord in feudal times to take the virginity of one of his vassals’ brides on her wedding night (in precedence to her new husband)
E
Eau de Cologne 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.
Eau de toilette Literally “grooming water.” It usually refers to an aromatic product that is less expensive than a perfume because it has less of the aromatic compounds and is more for an everyday use.
Éclair A cream and chocolate icing pastry
Élan A distinctive flair or style
En garde “[Be] on [your] guard,” used in fencing, and sometimes mistranscribed as “on guard”
En route On the way
Enfant terrible A disruptively unconventional person, a “terrible child”
Entente diplomatic A 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.
Entrepreneur A person who undertakes and operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the inherent risks
F
Façade 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)
fait accompli Literally – accomplished fact; something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed, a done deal
Faux pas “False step”: violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules
Femme fatale “Deadly woman”: an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men for her personal goals, after which she discards or abandons them; extends to describe an attractive woman with whom a relationship is likely to result, or has already resulted, in pain and sorrow
Fiancé Betrothed; a man/woman engaged to be married.
Film noir A genre of dark-themed movies from the 1940s and 1950s that focus on stories of crime and immorality
Flambé 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.
Fleur-de-lis 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”)
Force majeure An overpowering and unforeseeable event, especially when talking about weather (often appears in insurance contracts)
G
Gaffe Blunder
Gauche Tactless, does not mean “left-handed” (which translates in French as “gaucher”), but does mean “left”
Genre A type or class, such as “the thriller genre”
Grand Prix A type of motor racing, literally “Great Prize”
Grenadier A specialized soldier, first established for the throwing of grenades and later as elite troops
H
haute couture “High sewing”: Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion
haute cuisine Upmarket gastronomy; literally “high cooking.”
Hauteur Arrogance; literally height
hors d’œuvre “Outside the [main] work”: appetizer
I
Impasse Deadlock
Insouciant/e Nonchalant man/woman
Ingénu/e 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.
J
Jeu d’esprit “Play of spirit”; a witty, often light-hearted, comment or composition
Joie de vivre “Joy of life/living”
L
Laissez-faire “Let do”; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference
Lamé A type of fabric woven or knit with metallic yarns
Lèse majesté An offense against a sovereign power; or, an attack against someone’s dignity or against a custom or institution held sacred
Liaison 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)
Louche Of questionable taste;
M
Macramé Coarse lace work made with knotted cords
Mademoiselle Young unmarried lady, miss; literally “my noble young lady”
Malaise A general sense of depression or unease
Mardi gras Fat Tuesday, the last day of eating meat before Lent
Mélange A mixture
Mêlée A confused fight; a struggling crowd
ménage à trois “Household for three”: a sexual arrangement between three people
Milieu Social environment; setting (has also the meaning of “middle” in French)
Montage Editing
Motif A recurrent thematic element
Mousse A whipped dessert or a hairstyling foam; in French, means any type of foam
N
Né, née “Born”: a man’s/woman’s birth name (maiden name for a woman), e.g., “Elizabeth Burton, née Taylor”
Noblesse oblige “Nobility obliges”; those granted a higher station in life have a duty to extend (possibly token) favours/courtesies to those in lower stations
Nom de plume Author’s pseudonym, literally “pen name; ” Originally an English phrase, now also used in France
Nouveau riche Newly rich, used in English to refer particularly to those living a garish lifestyle with their newfound wealth
Nouvelle cuisine New cuisine
O
Objet d’art A work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture; also a utilitarian object displayed for its aesthetic qualities
Omelette Omelette
P
Panache Verve; flamboyance
Papier-mâché Literally chewed paper; a craft medium using paper and paste
Par excellence “By excellence”: quintessential
Pastiche A derivative work; an imitation
Patois A dialect; jargon
Pince-nez Literally “pinch nose,” a type of spectacles without temple arms.
Piste Refers to skiing
Poseur “Poser”: a person who pretends to be something he is not; an affected or insincere person: a wannabe
Prêt-à-porter “Ready to wear” (clothing off the shelf
Protégé/e A man/woman who receives support from an influential mentor
R
Raison d’être “Reason for being”: justification or purpose of existence
Rapport To be in someone’s “good graces”; French for: relationship
Rapprochement The establishment of cordial relations, often used in diplomacy
Reconnaissance Scouting
Renaissance Rebirth, a cultural movement in the 14-17th centuries
Reservoir An artificial lake
Restaurateur Restaurant owner
Retard Translates as late, but is used as a derogative term for someone who is a slow thinker
Riposte A quick retort in speech or action, or in fencing, a quick thrust after parrying a lunge
Role A part or function of a person in a situation or an actor in a play
Roman à clef “Novel with a key”: an account of actual persons, places or events in fictional guise
Roué An openly debauched, lecherous older man
Roux Cooked mixture of flour and fat used as a base in soups and gravies
S
Sabotage Subversive destruction, from the practice of workers fearful of industrialization destroying machines by tossing their sabots (“wooden shoes”) into machinery
Saboteur Person who commits sabotage
Sacrebleu! “Holy Blue!” general exclamation of horror and shock; a stereotypical minced oath; very dated in France and rarely heard
Sang-froid “Cold blood”: coolness and composure under strain; stiff upper lip
Sauté Literally jumped; quickly fry in a small amount of oil
Savant “Knowing”: a wise or learned person; in English, one exceptionally gifted in a narrow skill
Savoir-faire Literally “know how to do”; to respond appropriately to any situation
Silhouette Image of a person, an object or scene consisting of the outline and a featureless interior, with the silhouetted object usually being black
Sobriquet Assumed name, a nickname (often used in a pejorative way in French)
soi-disant So-called; self-described; literally “oneself saying”
soigné Fashionable; polished
soirée Evening party
sommelier Wine steward
soupçon Very small amount (In French, can also mean suspicion)
T
Tableau Chalkboard; the meaning is broader in French: all types of board (chalkboard, whiteboard, notice board…); also refers to a painting or a table (chart).
Tête-à-tête “Head to head”; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people
télévision telly
Toilette Process of dressing or grooming. Also refers in French, when plural (“les toilettes”), to the toilet room
Touché Acknowledgment of an effective counterpoint; literally “touched” or “hit!”
trompe-l’œil Photograph-like realism in painting; literally “trick the eye”
V
venu/e Invited man/woman for a show, once (“come”); unused in modern French, though it can still be used in a few expressions like bienvenu/e (literally well come: welcome) or le premier venu (anyone; literally, the first who came)
vin de pays Literally “country wine”; wine of a lower designated quality than appellation contrôlée
vinaigrette Salad dressing of oil and vinegar; diminutive of vinaigre (vinegar)
vis-à-vis “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)
voilà! Literally “see there”; in French it can mean simply “there it is”; in English it is generally restricted to a triumphant revelation
volte-face A complete reversal of opinion or position, about face
voyeur Literally someone who sees; a peeping tom

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