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List of French words and phrases used by English speakers

Here are some examples of French words and phrases used by English speakers.

There are many words of French origin in English, such as art, collage, competition, force, machine, police, publicity, role, routine, table, and many others which have been and are being anglicized. They are now pronounced according to English rules of orthography, rather than French. Approximately 40% of English vocabulary is of French or Oïl language origin, most derived from, or transmitted by, the Anglo-Norman spoken by the upper classes in England for several hundred years after the Norman Conquest, before the language settled into what became Modern English.

This article, however, covers words and phrases that generally entered the lexicon later, as through literature, the arts, diplomacy, and other cultural exchanges not involving conquests. As such, they have not lost their character as Gallicisms, or words that seem unmistakably foreign and "French" to an English-speaking person.

That said, the phrases are given as used in English, and may seem correct modern French to English speakers, but may not be recognised as such by French speakers as many of them are now defunct or have a different meaning due to semantic evolution. A general rule is that if the word or phrase retains French diacritics or is usually printed in italics, it has retained its French identity.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #Not used as such in FrenchOnly found in EnglishFrench phrases in international air-sea rescueSee alsoReferences

Used in French and English


à gogo : in abundance. It pertains to the familiar language in French. à la] : in the manner of/in a similar manner to [...] à la carte : on the card; (in restaurants refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal) à la mode : fashionable; also, with ice cream (in the U.S.) à propos : regarding accouchement : confinement during childbirth; the process of having a baby; only this last meaning remains in French adieu : farewell; as it literally means "to God," it carries more weight than "au revoir" ("goodbye", literally "see you later"): 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 you'll wish for the other person's death or will say that you don't wish to see the other person ever again while alive. adroit : 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 "left". aide-de-camp : "camp assistant"; assistant to a senior military officer aide-mémoire : "memory aid"; an object or memorandum to assist in remembrance, or a diplomatic paper proposing the major points of discussion allez : "go!", as in "go team!" ancien régime : a sociopolitical or other system that no longer exists, an allusion to pre-revolutionary France (used with capital letter in French with this meaning : Ancien Régime) aperçu : preview; a first impression; initial insight. apéritif : a before-meal drink (in familiar French, it is shortened as "un apéro"). appellation contrôlée : supervised use of a name. For the conventional use of the term, see Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée après moi, le déluge : remark attributed to Louis XV of France; used in reference to the impending end of a functioning French monarchy and predicting the French Revolution. (After me, the deluge.) 617 Squadron Royal air Force famously known as The Dam Busters use this as their motto. Also a verse in the song Après Moi by Regina Spektor. après-ski : after skiing socializing after a ski session; in modern French, this word refers to boots used to walk in snow (e.g. MoonBootsTM). arête : a narrow ridge. armoire : a type of cabinet; wardrobe. artiste : a skilled performer, a person with artistic pretensions. art nouveau : a style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (usually bears a capital in French : Art nouveau). attaché : a person attached to an embassy; in French is also the past participle of the verb attacher (=to fasten) au contraire : on the contrary. au courant : up-to-date; abreast of current affairs. au jus : literally, with juice, referring to a food course served with sauce. Often redundantly formulated, as in 'Open-faced steak sandwich, served with au jus.' In modern French, although 'jus' can refer to juice produced by meat during cooking, se mettre au jus (to put oneself au jus) is also a colloquial expression used to call someone to try something (jump into water at a pool, try a new recipe...) au pair : a young foreigner who does domestic chores in exchange for room and board. au revoir! : "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 the deformation of avant-garde) or "advance guard", in other words, "first to attack" (antonym of arrière-garde). avant la lettre : used to describe something or someone seen as a precursor or forerunner of something (such as an artistic or political movement) before that something was recognized and named, e.g. "a post-modernist avant la lettre", "a feminist avant la lettre"; the expression literally means before the letter, i.e. "before it had a name". avec plaisir : my pleasure (lit. "with pleasure")


ballet : a type of dance beau geste : literally "beautiful gesture"; gracious gesture; also, a gesture noble in form but meaningless in substance beaucoup : plenty, lots of, much; merci beaucoup: thanks a lot; used in slang, e.g. "beaucoup money", especially in New Orleans, LA {Bookoo} bel esprit (pl. beaux esprits) : literally "fine mind"; a cultivated, highly intelligent person belle : a beautiful woman or girl. Common uses of this word are in the phrases the belle of the ball (the most beautiful woman or girl present at a function) and southern belle (a beautiful woman from the southern states of the US) belles-lettres : 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 bien fait! : literally "well done"; used to express schadenfreude when someone is well-deservedly punished blasé : unimpressed with something because of over-familiarity, jaded. bon appétit : literally "good appetite"; enjoy your meal bon mot : well-chosen word(s), particularly a witty remark bon vivant : one who enjoys the good life, an epicurean bon voyage : have a good trip!bonjour : "good day", the usual greeting bonne chance : "good luck" (as in, 'I wish you good luck') les boules : (vulgar) literally "the balls"; meaning that whatever you are talking about is dreadful bric-à-brac : small ornamental objects, less valuable than antiques; a collection of old furniture, china, plate and curiosities. Cf. de bric et de broc, corresponding to our "by hook or by crook", and brack, refuse.brunette : a brown-haired girl. For brown-haired man, French uses brun and for a woman brune. Not used often in French, unlike brun/e. The masculine form, brunet (for a boy) is even more rarely used.bureau (pl. bureaux) : office


ça ne fait rien : "that doesn't matter"; rendered as san fairy Ann in British WWI slang cachet : lit. "stamp"; a distinctive quality café : a coffee shop; café au lait : coffee with milk; or a light-brown color carte blanche : unlimited authority; literally "white card" (i.e. blank check) carte d'identité : identity card c'est bon : "that's good" 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 mode. : "Such is fashion" c'est la vie ! : "That's life!"; or "Such is life!" It is sometimes used as an expression to say that life is harsh but that one must accept it. c'est magnifique ! : "That's great!"; literally it's magnificent c'est pas grave : "it doesn't matter, it's not a big deal" (informal) Ceux qui rient le vendredi, pleureront le dimanche : Those who laugh on Friday will cry on Sunday chacun ses goûts / à chacun ses goûts / à chacun son goût [all 3 are used] : "to each his (their) own taste(s)" chaise longue : a long chair for reclining; (also rendered chaise lounge or chase lounge via folk etymology) Champs-Élysées : literally "Elysian Fields"; Avenue des Champs-Élysées, one of the largest boulevards in Paris chanson : a song chanteuse : a female singer chapeau : a hat. In French, chapeau is also an expression of congratulations similar to the English "hats off to...." chargé d'affaires : 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. châteaux en Espagne : literally "castles in Spain"; imaginary projects, with little hope of realisation (means the same as "castles in the air" or "pie in the sky"). No known etymology, though it was already used in the 13th century in the Roman de la rose. chef d'œuvre : a masterpiece cherchez la femme : "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). chevalier d'industrie : "knight of industry" : one who lives by his wits, specially by swindling chez : at the house of : often used in the names of restaurants and the like; Chez Marie = "Marie's" chic : stylish chignon : a hairstyle worn in a roll at the nape of the neck cinéma vérité : realism in documentary filmmaking cliché : lit. negative; trite through overuse; a stereotype clique : a small exclusive group of friends without morale; always used in a pejorative way in French. commandant : a commanding officer comme ci, comme ça : "like this, like that"; so-so, neither good nor bad comme il faut : "as it must be" : in accord with conventions or accepted standards; proper. communiqué : lit. communicated; an official communication concierge : a hotel desk manager (in French also refers to the caretaker of a building usually living at the front floor ; concierges have a reputation for gossiping) concordat : an agreement; a treaty; when used with capital letters in French refers to a treaty between the French State and Judaeo-Christian religions during the French Empire (Napoleon) : priests, ministers and rabbis became civil servants. This treaty was abolished in 1905 (Church-State separation) but is still in use in Alsace-Lorraine (those territories were under German administration during 1871–1918) confrère : a colleague congé : a departure; in French when used in the plural form refers to vacations conte : a short story, a tale; in French a conte has usually a fantasy context (such as in fairytales) and always begins with the words "Il était une fois" ("Once upon a time"). contre-jour: against daylight contretemps : an awkward clash; a delay coquette : a flirtatious girl; a tease cordon sanitaire : a policy of containment directed against a hostile entity or ideology; a chain of buffer states; lit. "quarantine line" cortège : a funeral procession; in French has a broader meaning and refers to all kinds of procession corvée : forced labor for minimal or no pay cotte d'armes : coat of arms coup de foudre : lit. thunderbolt ("strike of thunder"); used only in the context of love at first sight. 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 (e.g., business) coup d'œil : a glance, literally "a blow (or touch) of the eye" couture : fashion (usually refers to high fashion) couturier : a fashion designer (usually refers to high fashion, rather than everyday clothes design) crèche : a nativity display; more commonly (in UK), a place where children are left by their parents for short periods in the supervision of childminders; both meanings still exist in French crème brûlée : a dessert consisting primarily of custard and toasted sugar, that is, caramel; literally "burnt cream" crème de la crème : best of the best, "cream of the cream", used to describe highly skilled people or objects. Francophones would use « fin du fin » (not restricted to skilled people). crème fraîche : literally "fresh cream", a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream crêpe : a thin sweet or savoury pancake eaten as a light meal or dessert cri du coeur : "cry from the heart" : an impassioned outcry, as of entreaty or protest cuisine minceur : gourmet cooking for staying thin cul-de-sac : a dead-end (residential) street; literally "bottom (buttocks) of the bag".


d'accord : in accord; agreed; sure; OK; of course déclassé : of inferior social status 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. décor : the layout and furnishing of a room découpage : decoration with cut paper déjà vu : "already seen" : an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before. dénouement : the end result de nouveau : again; anew dérailleur : a bicycle gear-shift mechanism de règle : according to custom; de rigueur : required or expected, especially in fashion or etiquette dernier cri : the latest fashion; literally "last scream" derrière : rear; buttocks; literally "behind" déshabillé : partially clad or scantily dressed; also a special type of garment. désolé : sorry détente : easing of diplomatic tension de trop : excessive diablerie : witchcraft, deviltry, or, more figuratively, "wickedness" 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 douceur de vivre : "sweetness of life" 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). The actual French term for this hypothetical custom is droit de cuissage (from cuisse 'thigh'). du jour : 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"


eau de toilette : perfume; can be shortened as eau (water); literally "grooming water." Usually refers to a product which is less expensive, because it has less aromatic compounds, and is thus used more for everyday purposes éclat : Great brilliance, as of performance or achievement. Conspicuous success. Great acclamation or applause élan : a distinctive flair or style élan vital : literally "vital ardor"; the vital force hypothesized by Henri Bergson as a source of efficient causation and evolution in nature; also called "life-force" éminence grise : "grey eminence" : a publicity-shy person with little formal power but great influence over those in authority en bloc : as a group en passant : in passing en principe, oui : "in principle, yes" : a diplomatic way of saying 'no' en route : on the way en suite : as a set (do not confuse with "ensuite", meaning "then") (je suis) enchanté : "(I am) enchanted (to meet you)" : a formal greeting on receiving an introduction. Often shortened to simply "enchanté". enfant terrible : a disruptively unconventional person, a "terrible child" ennui : boredom entente : 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. entre nous : confidentially; literally "between us" entrée : literally "entrance"; the first course of a meal (UK English); used to denote the main dish or course of a meal (US English) entremets : desserts/sweet dishes. More literally, a side dish that can be served between the courses of a meal entrepreneur : a person who undertakes and operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the inherent risks escargot : snail. esprit de corps : "spirit of the body [group]" : a feeling of solidarity among members of a group; morale. Often used in connection with a military force. esprit de l'escalier : "wit of the stairs" : a concise, clever statement you don't think of until too late, e.g. on the stairs leaving the scene l'État, c'est moi! : "I am the state!" — attributed to the archetypal absolute monarch, Louis XIV of France étude : a musical composition designed to provide practice in a particular technical skill in the performance of an instrument. French for "study". excusez-moi ! : excuse me!; can be used sarcastically (depends on the tone) excusez le mot ! : excuse the word!; if a certain word has negative connotations (for example, a word-joke at a time of grief) exposé : a published exposure of a fraud or scandal (past participle of "to expose"); in French refers to a talk or a report on all kinds of subject extraordinaire : extraordinary, usually as a following adjective, as "musician extraordinaire"


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 : lit. accomplished fact; something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed. faute de mieux : for want of better faux : false, ersatz, fake. faux amis : "false friends" : words in two different languages that have the same or similar spelling, and often the same etymology but different meanings, such as the French verb rester which means "to stay" rather than "to rest" 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 in order to achieve personal goals after which she discards or abandons the victim. Used to describe an attractive woman with whom a relationship is likely to result, or has already resulted, in pain and sorrow fiancé/e : betrothed; lit. a man/woman engaged to be married. fier de l'être : proud of being; "French, and proud to be so" film noir : a genre of dark-themed movies from the 1940s and 1950s that focus on stories of crime and immorality fils : used after a man's surname to distinguish a son from a father, as George Bush fils (in French, "fils" = son) fin de saison : "end of season" : marks the end of an extended (annual) period during which business increases significantly, most commonly used for the end of summer tourism fin de siècle : comparable to (but not exactly the same as) turn-of-the-century but with a connotation of decadence, usually applied to the period from 1890 through 1910. flambeau : a lighted torch flâneur : a gentleman stroller of city streets; an aimless idler 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") foie gras : fatty liver; usually the liver of overfed goose, hence: pâté de foie gras, pâté made from goose liver. However, "foie gras" generally stands for "paté de foie gras" as it is the most common way to use it. folie à deux : a simultaneous occurrence of delusions in two closely related people, often said of an unsuitable romance force majeure : an overpowering event, an act of God (often appears in insurance contracts) forte : a strength, a strong point, typically of a person, from the French fort or strong.
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, "In forte we have a word derived from French that in its "strong point" sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated 'for-"tA and 'for-tE because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation 'fort, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard, however. In British English 'fo-"tA and 'fot predominate; 'for-"tA and for-'tA are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English."


gaffe : blunder garçon : 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 can be rather insulting in French) gauche : tactless, does not mean "left-handed" (which is translated in French as "gaucher") gaucherie : boorishness Gautier et Garguille : all the world and his wife (possibly derived from a 17th century French comic Hugues Guérin, who performed under the stage name Gautier-Garguille, though it is likely that he in turn may have taken this pseudonym from earlier 16th century recorded sayings: prendre Gautier pour Garguille: "to take Gautier for Garguille", that is to mistake one person for another; il n'y a ni Gautier, ni Garguille: "he is neither Gaultier nor Garguille", that is, 'he is no-one') genre : a type or class, such as "the thriller genre" glissade : slide down a slope les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas : "tastes and colours are not argued over"; one does not argue over differences in taste, to each his own grâce à : "thanks to", "by the grace of", naming credit or fortune Grand Prix : a type of motor racing, literally "Grand Prize" grand projet : literally "large project"; usually a government funded large scale civil engineering or technology project executed for prestige or general social benefit, and not immediately (if ever) profitable Grand Guignol : a horror show, named after a French theater famous for its frightening plays and bloody special effects. (Guignol can be used in French to describe a ridiculous person, in the same way that clown might be used in English.)


habitué : one who regularly frequents a place haute couture : "high sewing" : Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion haute cuisine : a manner of preparing food; literally "upper cooking". haute école : advanced horsemanship; literally "upper school" hauteur : arrogance; lit. height haut monde : fashionable society, the "upper world" Honi soit qui mal y pense. : "Shame on him who thinks ill of it"; or sometimes translated as Evil be to him who evil thinks; the motto of the English Order of the Garter (modern French writes honni instead of Old French honi) hors concours : "out of the running"; a non-competitor, e.g. in love hors de combat : out of the fight : prevented from fighting, usually by injury hors d'œuvre : "outside the [main] work" : appetizer huis-clos : "closed door" : an enclosed space such as a room or cell, where action or speech can not be seen or heard from outside; title of a play by Jean-Paul Sartre


idée fixe : "fixed idea": obsession; in music, a leitmotiv. impasse : a deadlock. insouciant/e : a 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 play written by Voltaire.


J’accuse : "I accuse"; used generally in reference to a political or social indictment (alluding to the title of Émile Zola’s exposé of the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal which divided France from the 1890s to the early 1900s which involved the false conviction for treason in 1894 of a young French artillery officer of Jewish background) J'adore : literally, I adore. I love to the full extent. Can imply "Je t'adore", translated as "I love you", or possibly I adore you. J'adoube : In chess, an expression said discreetly signaling an intention to straighten out the pieces, without being committed to moving or capturing the first one touched as per the game's rules; lit. "I adjust". From adouber, to dub (the action of knighting someone) Jacques Bonhomme : a name given to a French peasant as tamely submissive to taxation. Also the pseudonym of the 14th century peasant leader Guillaume Caillet Je m'appelle : my name is... Je m'en fous : "I don't give a damn / a fuck". je ne regrette rien : "I regret nothing" (from the title of a popular song sung by Édith Piaf: "Non, je ne regrette rien"). Also the phrase the UK's then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont chose to use to describe his feelings over the events of September 16 1992 ('Black Wednesday') je ne sais pas : "I don't know"; collapses to chais pas ʃɛpa in modern colloquial speech je-ne-sais-quoi : "I-don't-know-what" : an indescribable or indefinable 'something' which distinguishes the object in question from others which are superficially similar. Je suis : I am Jeunesse dorée : "gilded youth"; name given to a body of young dandies who, after the fall of Robespierre, strove to bring about a counter-revolution. Today used for any offspring living an affluent lifestyle. joie de vivre : "joy of life/living"




laïcité : absence of religious interference in government affairs and government interference in religious affairs laissez-faire : "let do"; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference. laissez les bons temps rouler : Cajun expression for "let the good times roll": not used in proper French, and not generally understood by Francophones outside of Louisiana Lamé : is a type of fabric woven or knit with metallic yarns. layette : a set of clothing and accessories for a new baby la petite mort : an expression for orgasm; literally "the little death" le mot juste : a way of praising speech, writing, or poetry, meaning "well said", or "beautifully said"; literally "the right word" lèse majesté : an offense against a sovereign power; or, an attack against someone's dignity or against a custom or institution held sacred (from the Latin "crimen laesae maiestatis": the crime of injured majesty) l'esprit de l'escalier : thinking of the right comeback too late; literally "staircase wit"; (originally a witticism of Diderot, the French encyclopedist, in his Paradoxe sur le Comédien) L'État, c'est moi. : the remark attributed to Louis XIV ("I am the state"); also used generally in reference to the overweening ego of an absolute ruler 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" Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité :"Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood"; (motto of the French Republic) lieu : from Latin locus ("place"); in lieu of: "instead of", "in the place of". This is illustrated for instance in the English word "lieutenant", which literally means "place-holder" littérateur : an intellectual; (pejorative in French) louche : of questionable taste; Louis Quinze : "Louis XV" (of France), whose long reign (1715–1774) is associated with the rococo style of furniture, architecture and interior decoration


macramé : coarse lace work made with knotted cords mademoiselle : young unmarried lady, miss; literally "my noble young lady" maison : house malaise : a general sense of depression or unease Mange tout : another phrase describing 'peas' (litt : "Eat-all", due to the fact that some peas can be cooked and eaten with their pod.) mal de mer : motion sickness, literally "seasickness" Mardi gras : Fat Tuesday, the last day of eating meat before Lent. Note that there isn't a capital to gras marque : a model or brand matériel : supplies and equipment, particularly in a military context (French meaning is broader and corresponds more to "hardware") mauvais quart d'heure : "bad quarter hour" : a short unpleasant or uncomfortable moment mélange : a mixture mêlée : a confused fight; a struggling crowd ménage à trois : "household for three" : a sexual arrangement between three people Merci beaucoup! : "Thank you very much!" Merde : "shit" métier : a field of work or other activity; usually one in which one has special ability or training milieu : social environment; setting (has also the meaning of "middle" in French.) mirepoix : a cooking mixture of two parts onions and one part each of celery and carrots mise en place : a food assembly station in a commercial kitchen mise en scène : the process of setting a stage with regard to placement of actors, scenery, properties, etc.; the stage setting or scenery of a play; surroundings, environment moi : "me"; often used in English as an ironic reply to an accusation; for example, "Pretentious? Moi?" moi aussi : "me too", used to show agreeing with someone le moment suprême : "the supreme moment"; the climax in a series of events (for example at the unveiling of an art exhibition) mon Dieu ! : my Gosh montage : a blending of pictures, scenes, or sounds le mot juste : "the just word"; the right word at the right time. French uses it often in the expression chercher le mot juste (to search for the right word) motif : a recurrent thematic element moue : a pursing together of the lips to indicate dissatisfaction, a pout mousse : a whipped dessert or a hairstyling foam; in modern French, any kind of foam


naïf/naïve : a man/woman lacking experience, understanding or sophistication naïveté : fact of being naïf né/e : "born" : a man/woman’s birth name (maiden name for a woman), e.g., "Martha Washington, née Martha Custis" n'est-ce pas : "isn't it [true]?"; asked rhetorically after a statement, as in "Right?" 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 guerre : pseudonym to disguise the identity of a leader of a militant group, literally "war name", used in France for "pseudonym" nom de plume : author's pseudonym, literally "pen name". Originally an English phrase, now also used in France nouveau : newfangled nouveau riche : newly rich nouvelle cuisine : new cuisine nouvelle vague : Literally meaning "new wave". Used for stating a new way or a new trend of something. Originally marked a new style of French filmmaking in the late 1950s and early 1960s, reacting against films seen as too literary (whereas the phrase "new wave" is used in French to qualify some '80's music, such as Depeche Mode.)


objet d'art : a work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture

œuvre : "work", in the sense of an artist's work; by extension, an artist's entire body of work Off/On Piste : referring to skiing at a ski area (on piste) versus skiing in the backcountry (off piste). ouais : yeah oui : yes


panache : verve; flamboyance papier-mâché : a craft medium using paper and paste par excellence : "by excellence" : quintessential pas de deux : a close relationship between two people; a duet in ballet pas de problèm : no problem pas de trois : a dance for three, usually in ballet. passé : out of fashion passe-partout : a document or key that allows the holder to travel without hindrance from the authorities and enter any location. pastiche : a derivative work; an imitation patois : a dialect; jargon père : used after a man's surname to distinguish a father from a son, as in "George Bush père." petite : small; waiflike; skinny; lit. small peut-être : perhaps, possibly, maybe pied-à-terre : "foot-on-the-ground" or "foothold"; a place to stay, generally applied to the city house in contradistinction to the country estate of the wealthy pis-aller : "worse"; an undesirable option selected because the other choices were even worse plat du jour : a dish served in a restaurant on a particular day but which is not part of the regular menu; literally "dish of the day" plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (or plus ça change, plus c’est pareil) : the more things change, the more they stay the same plus royaliste que le roi : "more royalist than the king", i.e. more enthusiastic than the cause deserves poseur : "poser" : a person who pretends to be something he is not; an affected or insincere person: a wannabe pour encourager les autres : "to encourage others"; said of an excessive punishment meted out as an example. The original is from Voltaire's Candide and referred to the execution of Admiral John Byng. pourboire : "for drink"; gratuity, tip; donner un pourboire: to tip. prêt-à-porter : "ready to wear" (clothing off the shelf), in contrast to haute couture protégé/e : a man/woman who receives support from an influential mentor. provocateur : a polemicist


Quai d'Orsay : address of the French foreign ministry in Paris, used to refer to the ministry itself. Quatorze juillet : "14th July" Bastille Day. The beginning of the French Revolution in 1789; used to refer to the Revolution itself and its ideals. It is the French National Day. Quel dommage! : "What a pity!" Quelle horreur! : What a horrible thing! (can be used sarcastically). Quelle surprise! : "What a surprise!" Qu'est-ce que c'est ? : "What is this/that?" qui vive : "who would live?" : a sentry's challenge to determine a person's political sympathies. Obsolete, but for the expression "sur le qui-vive" (literally "on the point of saying qui vive") — on the alert, vigilant. quoi de neuf : "What's new?" What's up?


raconteur : a conversationalist raison d'État : reason of state (always with a capital "É" in French). raison d'être : "reason for being" : justification or purpose of existence rapport : 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 rapprochement : the establishment of cordial relations, often used in diplomacy reconnaissance : scouting; like connoisseur, modern French use a "a", never a "o" (as in reconnoissance). repertoire : the range of skills of a particular person or group reportage : reporting; journalism 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.) ressentiment : a deep-seated sense of aggrievement and powerlessness restaurateur : a restaurant owner Rive Gauche : the left (southern) bank (of the River Seine in Paris). A particular mindset attributed to inhabitants of that area, which includes the Sorbonne roi fainéant : "do-nothing king" : an expression first used about the kings of France from 670 to 752 (Thierry III to Childeric III), who were puppets of their ministers. The term was later used about other royalty who had been made powerless, also in other countries, but lost its meaning when parliamentarism made all royals powerless roman à clef : "novel with a key" : an account of actual persons, places or events in fictional guise roué : a hedonist, "cunning devil" roux : a cooked mixture of flour and fat used as a base in soups and gravies


sabotage : subversive destruction, from the practice of workers fearful of industrialization destroying machines by tossing their sabots ("wooden shoes") into machinery saboteur : one who commits sabotage Sacrebleu! : "holy Blue!" general exclamation of horror and shock; a stereotypical minced oath, which is a euphemism for Sacré Dieu ("Sacred God!"). Very dated in France and rarely heard. sang-froid : "cold blood" : coolness and composure under strain; stiff upper lip. Also pejorative in the phrase meurtre de sang-froid ("cold-blooded murder"). sans : without sans-culottes : "without knee-pants", a name the insurgent crowd in the streets of Paris gave to itself during the French Revolution, because they usually wore pantaloons (full-length pants or trousers) instead of the chic knee-length culotte of the nobles. In modern use: holding strong republican views. saperlipopette : goodness me sauve qui peut : those who can should save themselves. Used as a pragmatic response to an accident. Roughly equivalent to the English "every man for himself" 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. savoir-vivre :fact of following conventional norms within a society; etiquette (etiquette also comes from a French word, "étiquette") s'il vous plaît : "if it pleases you", "if you please" si vous préférez : "if you prefer" sobriquet : an 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 : an evening party Sommelier : a wine steward soupçon : a very small amount (In French, can also mean suspicion) soupe du jour : "soup of the day", meaning the particular kind of soup offered that day succès d’estime : a "success in the estimation of others", sometimes used pejorativelysouffrir pour être belle: "beauty does not come without suffering" or, "you have to suffer to be pretty" sur le tas : as one goes along; on the fly Système D : resourcefulness, or ability to work around the system; from débrouillard, one with the knack of making do. A typical phrase using this concept would translate directly to "Thanks to System D, I managed to fix this cupboard without the missing part."


tant mieux : so much the better tant pis : "too bad," "oh well, that's tough" tête-à-tête :"head to head"; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people toilette : the process of dressing or grooming touché : acknowledgment of an effective counterpoint; literally "touched" or "hit!" Comes from the fencing vocabulary. tour de force : "feat of strength" : a masterly or brilliant stroke, creation, effect, or accomplishment tout de suite :"at once", "immediately" (per Oxford English Dictionary). très : very (often ironic in English)très beau :very beautiful trompe l'œil : photograph-like realism in painting; literally "trick the eye"


unique : One of a kind. Unique is considered a paradigmatic absolute and something can not, therefore, be 'very unique'.


vas-y : Go Ahead! Used to encourage someone (pronounced vah-zee) Va-t'en : imperative form, like above, literally meaning "Go from here" but translating more closely as "Go away". Roughly equivalent to idiomatic English get lost or get out. vendu (pl. vendus) :sellout, generally by apostates venue : 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 "county wine"; wine of a lower designated quality than appellation controlée 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 neighbour's are within sighting distance (more precisely, that you can see inside of their home). Vive[...]! : "Long live...!"; lit. "Live"; as in "Vive la France!", Vive la Résistance!, "Vive le Canada!", or "Vive le Québec libre!" (long live free Quebec, a sovereigntist slogan famously used by French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967 in Montreal). Unlike "viva" or "vivat", it cannot be used as such, it needs a complement.vive la différence! :"[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) 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 Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir) ? : "Do you want to go to bed with me (tonight)? " A rude and cheesy pick-up line in modern French, but in English it appears in Tennessee Williams's play A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as in the lyrics of a popular song by Labelle, "Lady Marmalade" ). voyeur : lit. someone who sees; a peeping tom.

W - X - Y - Z

le zinc : bar/café counter. Zut alors! : "Darn it all!", a general exclamation. Like Sacre bleu, this is considered old-fashioned by modern French speakers. Just plain zut is still in use, however — often repeated for effect, for example, zut, zut et zut!) (Whether zut is dated or not might depend on context: where merde is not polite enough, zut, zut alors, zut et rezut etc. are still in current use.) There is an album by Frank Zappa titled Zoot Allures.

Not used as such in French

Through the evolution of the language, there are many words and phrases that are not used anymore in French. Also, there are those which, even though they are grammatically correct, are not used as such in French or do not have the same meaning. accoutrement : personal military or fighting armaments worn about one's self; has come to mean the accompanying items available to pursue a mission. In French, means a funny or ridiculous clothing; oftentimes a weird disguise or a getup, though it can be said also for people with bad taste in clothing. agent provocateur : a police spy who infiltrates a group to disrupt or discredit it. In French it has both a broader and more specific meaning. The Académie française, in its dictionary, says that an agent provocateur is a person working for another State or a political party (for examples), whose mission is to provoke troubles in order to justify repression. appliqué : an inlaid or attached decorative feature. Lit. "applied", though this meaning doesn't exist as such in French, the dictionary of the Académie française indicate that in the context of the arts, "arts appliqués" is synonym of decorative arts. auteur : A film director, specifically one who controls most aspects of a film, or other controller of an artistic situation. The English connotation derives from French film theory. It was popularized in the journal Cahiers du cinéma: auteur theory maintains that directors like Hitchcock exert a level of creative control equivalent to the author of a literary work. In French, the word means author, but some expressions like "cinéma d'auteur" are also in use. au naturel : nude; in French, literally, in a natural manner or way ("au" is the contraction of "à le", masculine form of "à la"). It means "in an unaltered way" and can be used either for people or things. For people, it rather refers to a person who doesn't use make-up or artificial manners (un entretien au naturel = a backstage interview). For things, it means that they weren't altered. Often used in cooking, like "thon au naturel" : tuna without any spices and uncooked. bête noire : a scary or unpopular person, idea, or thing, or the archetypical scary monster in a story; literally "black beast." In French, "être la bête noire de quelqu'un" ("to be somebody's bête noire") means that you're particularly hated by this person or this person has a strong aversion against you, regardless of whether you're scary or not. It can only be used for people. bureau de change (pl. bureaux de change): a currency exchange. In French, it means the office where you can change your currency. cap-à-pied : from head to foot; modern French uses de pied en cap cause célèbre : An issue arousing widespread controversy or heated public debate, lit. famous cause. It's correct grammatically, but the expression is not used in French. claque : a group of admirers; in old French, the claque was a group of people paid to applaud or disturb a piece at the theater; in modern French, it means "a slap"; "clique" is used in this sense (but in a pejorative way). connoisseur : an expert in wines, fine arts, or other matters of culture; a person of refined taste. It is spelled connaisseur in modern French. coup de main (pl. coups de main): a surprise attack. In French, "[donner] un coup de main" means "[to give] a hand" (to give assistance). Even if the English meaning exists as well, it is old-fashioned. coup d'État (pl. coups d'État): a sudden change in government by force; literally "hit (blow) of state". French uses the capital É, because using or not a capital change the sense of the word (État : a State, as in a country; état : a state of being). crudité : an appetizer comprised of grated raw vegetables soaked in a vinaigrette. In French, it means uncooked vegetable, traditionally served as an entrée (first part of the meal, contrary to an appetizer which is considered outside of the meal), with or without a vinaigrette or another sauce. Almost always used in the plural form in French (as in, crudités). c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre : "it is magnificent, but it is not war" — quotation from Marshal Pierre Bosquet commenting on the charge of the Light Brigade. Unknown quotation in French. décolletage : a low-cut neckline, cleavage (This is actually a case of "false friends": Engl. décolletage = Fr. décolleté; Fr. décolletage means: 1. action of lowering a female garment's neckline; 2. Agric.: cutting leaves from some cultivated roots such as beets, carrots, etc.; 3. Tech. Operation consisting of making screws, bolts, etc. one after another out of a single bar of metal on a parallel lathe. déjà entendu/lu: already heard/read. They do not exist as an expression in French: the Académie française says that un déjà vu (a feeling of something already seen) can be used but not un déjà entendu or un déjà lu. démarche : a decisive step. In French, it means all the different kinds of manners you can walk. dépanneur : a neighbourhood general/convenience store, term used in eastern Canada (often shortened to "dép" or "dep"). In French, it means a repairman. A convenience store would be a "supérette" or "épicerie [de quartier]". émigré : one who has emigrated for political reasons. In French, it means someone who emigrated. To imply the political reason, French would use of the word "exilé" (exiled). encore : A request to repeat a performance, as in “Encore !”, lit. again; also used to describe additional songs played at the end of a gig. Francophones would say « Bis ! » (a second time !); or « Une autre ! » (Another one !) to request « un rappel » (an encore). To say « Encore ! » implies a request to reprieve the entire repertoire. en masse : in a mass or group, all together. In French, 'mass' only refers to a physical mass, whether for people or objects. It cannot be used for something immaterial, like, for example, the voice : "they all together said 'get out'" would be translated as "ils dirent 'dehors' en choeur" ([like a chorus]). Also, 'en masse' refers to numerous people or objects (a crowd or a mountain of things). escritoire: a writing table. It is spelt écritoire in modern French. extraordinaire: extraordinary, out of the ordinary capacity for a person. In French, it simply means extraordinary (adjective) and can be used for either people, things or concepts. The rule that systematically puts 'extraordinary' after the noun in English is also wrong, because in French, an adjective can be put before the noun to emphasize - which is particularly the case for the adjective 'extraordinaire'. In fact, French people would just as well use 'un musicien extraordinaire' as 'un extraordinaire musicien' (a extraordinary male musician, but the later emphasizes on his being extraordinary). femme : a stereotypically effeminate gay man or lesbian (slang, pronounced as written). In French, femme (pronounced 'fam') means "woman". la sauce est tout!: "The sauce is everything!" or "The secret's in the sauce!" Tagline used in a 1950s American TV commercial campaign for an American line of canned food products. ooh la la! : "wowie!" Expression of exaggerated feminine delight; variation of an expression more commonly used by the French, "oh la la!" which means "yikes!" Such a difference does not exist in French. peignoir: a woman’s dressing gown. In French it is a bathrobe. A dressing gown is a "robe de chambre" (lit. robe for a sleeping room). pièce d'occasion : "occasional piece"; item written or composed for a special occasion. In French, it means "second-hand hardware". Can be shortened as "pièce d'occas'" or even "occas'" (pronounced "okaz"). porte-cochere : an architectural term referring to a kind of porch or portico-like structure. Written porte-cochère (note the grave accent) in French. portemanteau (pl. portemanteaux): a blend; a word which fuses two or more words or parts of words to give a combined meaning. In French, lit. a carry coat, referred to a person who carried the royal coat or dress train, now meaning a large suitcase. potpourri : medley, mixture; French write it "pot-pourri", lit. rotten pot (it is primarily a pot where you put different kind of flowers or spices and let it dry for years for its scent). précis : a concise summary. In French, when talking about a school course, it means an abridged book about the matter. recherché : lit. searched; obscure; pretentious. In French, means sophisticated or delicate. résumé : in North American English, a document listing one's qualifications for employment. In French, it means summary; they would use instead curiculum vitæ, or its abbreviation, C.V.. rendezvous : lit. "go to"; a meeting, appointment, or date. Always in two words in French, as in "rendez-vous". Its abbreviation is RDV. risqué : sexually suggestive; in French, the meaning of risqué is "risky", with no sexual connotation. Francophones use instead "osé" (lit. "daring") or "dévergondé" (very formal language). table d'hôte (pl. tables d'hôte): a full-course meal offered at a fixed price. In French, it is a type of lodging where, unlike a hotel, in complement of the logding, you eat with every other patrons and the host. Lit. "the host's table" : you eat at the host's table whatever he prepared for him or herself, at the family's table, with a single menu. Generally, the menu is composed of traditional courses of the region & the number of patrons is very limited. tableau vivant (pl. tableaux vivants, often shortened as tableau): in drama, a scene in which actors remain still as if in a picture. Tableau means painting, tableau vivant, living painting. In French, it is an expression used in body painting. vignette : a brief description; a short scene. In French, it is a small picture.

Only found in English

après-garde : Avant-garde's antonym. French (and most English speakers) uses arrière-garde (either in a military or artistic context). corduroy : Suggested as "corde du roi" ("the king's cord") but this doesn't exist in French. More likely from 1780 American English "cord" and 17th "duroy", a coarse fabric made in England. demimonde : a class of women of ill repute; a fringe group or subculture. Fell out of use in the French language in the 19th century. double entendre : double meaning. French would use either "un mot / une phrase à double sens" (a word / a sentence with two meanings) or "un sous-entendu" (a hidden meaning). The verb entendre, to hear (modern), originally meant to understand. "Double entendre" has, however, been found previously in French documents dating back to the 15th century. The dictionary of the Académie française lists the expression "à double entente" as obsolete. homage : term used for films that are influenced by other films, in particular by the works of a notable director. French word is written "hommage", and is used for all shows of admiration, respect. léger de main : "light of hand" : sleight of hand, usually in the context of deception or the art of stage magic tricks. Means nothing in French and has no equivalent. maître d’ : translates as master o. Francophones would say maître d’hôtel (head waiter) instead (French never uses "d'" alone). negligee : A robe or a dressing gown, usually of sheer or soft fabric for women. French uses négligé (masculine form, with accents) or nuisette. Négligée qualifies a woman who neglects her appearance. parkour : urban street sport involving climbing and leaping, using buildings, walls, curbs to ricochet off much as if one were on a skateboard, often in follow-the-leader style. It's actually the phonetic form of the French word "parcours", which means "course". pièce de résistance : the best; the main meal, literally "a piece that resists". Francophones use plat de résistance (main dish). succès de scandale : Success through scandal; Francophones might use « succès par médisance ». voir dire : jury selection (Law French). Meant to be translated as "to speak the truth." (from the Latin "verus dicere": true and to say), but meaning literally "to see to say". Probably comes from a confusion of "voir" (to see, lat. videre: to see) and "voire'" (even, even more truly so, lat. vera: plural form of truth, true things). 'Voir' NEVER got the sense of truth in French; also, the expression 'voir dire' (nor 'voire dire') in itself never existed in French to begin with

French phrases in international air-sea rescue

International authorities have adopted a number of words and phrases from French for use by speakers of all languages in voice communications during air-sea rescues. Note that the "phonetic" versions are presented as shown and not the IPA. SECURITAY : (securité, “safety”) the following is a safety message or warning, the lowest level of danger. PAN PAN: (panne, “breakdown”) the following is a message concerning a danger to a person or ship, the next level of danger. MAYDAY: ([venez] m'aider, come help me"; note that aidez-moi means "help me") the following is a message of extreme urgency, the highest level of danger. (MAYDAY is used on voice channels for the same uses as SOS on Morse channels.) SEELONCE : (silence, “silence”) keep this channel clear for air-sea rescue communications. SEELONCE FEE NEE : (silence fini, “silence is over”) this channel is now available again. PRU DONCE : (prudence, “prudence”) silence partially lifted, channel may be used again for urgent non-distress communication. MAY DEE CAL : (médical, “medical”) medical assistance needed.

It is a serious breach in most countries, and in international zones, to use any of these phrases without justification.

See Mayday (distress signal) for a more detailed explanation.

See also


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