The French Touch: 100 French words that made their way into English

by George Buckley

As English speakers, we often take for granted the rich history and diverse influences that have shaped the language we use today. One of the most significant influences on the English language has been French, which has left a lasting imprint on our vocabulary. It's not uncommon to encounter French words and phrases in everyday conversation, artistic expressions, and technical jargon. In this article, we will explore 100 French words that have made their way into English and delve into their origins and meanings, showcasing the enduring French touch on the English language.

French words in everyday conversation

It's fascinating to discover how many French words and expressions we use in everyday conversation without even realizing it. From greetings to idiomatic phrases, these words have been seamlessly integrated into English.

  • Bonjour (Hello) - Though "hello" remains the most common greeting in English, "bonjour" is often used playfully or in a more sophisticated context.
  • Déjà vu (Already seen) - The familiar feeling that you've experienced a situation before.
  • Rendezvous (Meeting) - A planned meeting between two or more people, often romantic in nature.
  • Cul-de-sac (Bottom of the bag) - A dead-end street, often in a residential area.
  • RSVP (Répondez s'il vous plaît) - An abbreviation of the French phrase meaning "please respond," used on invitations to request a response from the guest.
  • Faux pas (False step) - A social blunder or mistake in etiquette.
  • Hôtel - A French term that means "hotel" in English but can also refer to a townhouse or mansion.
  • Rendezvous (Appointment) - A prearranged meeting or appointment, often used in romantic contexts.
  • Souvenir (Memory) - An item that serves as a reminder of a person, place, or event.
  • Chauffeur (Driver) - A person employed to drive a private car or a hired vehicle, such as a limousine.
  • Entrepreneur (Undertaker) - A person who starts and runs a business, often taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.
  • Bon voyage (Good journey) - A phrase used to wish someone a pleasant trip or journey.
  • Bourgeois (Middle class) - A term used to describe people of the middle class or their attitudes and values, sometimes with a negative connotation.
  • Brunette (Dark-haired) - A person, typically a woman, with dark brown hair.
  • Fiancé (Engaged) - A person engaged to be married, typically used for a man; for a woman, the term "fiancée" is used.
  • Concierge (Caretaker) - A staff member at a hotel or apartment building who assists guests or residents with various tasks, such as making reservations, providing directions, or arranging transportation.
  • Carte blanche (Blank card) - Unrestricted power or authority to act at one's discretion.
  • Cliché (Trite) - An overused expression or idea that has lost its original impact or significance.
  • Voilà (There it is) - A phrase used to draw attention to something, often when presenting a finished product or result.
  • À la mode (In the fashion) - In fashion or according to the latest style, sometimes used to describe a dessert served with ice cream.
  • Connoisseur (Expert) - An expert or judge of the fine arts, or someone with refined taste in a particular area.
  • Au pair (On par) - A young foreign person, typically a woman, who helps with housework or childcare in exchange for room and board.
  • Rendez-vous (Appointment) - A prearranged meeting or appointment, often used in romantic contexts.
  • Bouquet (Flower arrangement) - A bunch of flowers arranged in an attractive way.
  • Coup (Blow) - A sudden, often unexpected action or event, usually associated with politics or power struggles.

These everyday French words have been absorbed into English, enhancing our vocabulary and often adding a touch of elegance or sophistication to our speech.

French words in the arts, culture, and entertainment

The French language has also left its mark on the arts, culture, and entertainment industries. From music and theater to literature and film, French words are often used to describe artistic concepts or styles.

  • Genre (Type) - A category or style of artistic expression, such as film, literature, or music.
  • Ballet - A highly stylized form of dance that originated in France.
  • Auteur (Author) - A filmmaker whose personal vision and creative control are evident in their films.
  • Avant-garde (Vanguard) - Innovative or experimental ideas in the arts, often challenging traditional norms and values.
  • Film noir (Black film) - A genre of dark, moody crime films, often characterized by stark visuals and morally ambiguous characters.
  • Cinéma vérité (Truthful cinema) - A documentary filmmaking style that emphasizes naturalism and authenticity, often through the use of handheld cameras and non-professional actors.
  • Trompe l'oeil (Deceive the eye) - An artistic technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion of three-dimensional objects or spaces.
  • Art Nouveau (New Art) - A decorative art movement that emerged in the late 19th century, characterized by flowing lines and organic shapes.
  • Matinee (Morning) - A daytime performance or showing, especially of a play or movie.
  • Papier mâché (Chewed paper) - A craft material made from paper pulp, often used for creating sculptures or masks.
  • Cinéma (Cinema) - The art or industry of making and showing motion pictures.
  • Critique (Review) - A detailed analysis and assessment of a work of art, literature, or performance.
  • Arcade (Archway) - A series of arches supported by columns or piers, often used in architecture and design.

These French terms have enriched our understanding and appreciation of the arts, allowing us to express complex artistic concepts and styles with precision and nuance.

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French words in fashion and beauty

France, particularly Paris, has long been considered a global capital of fashion and beauty. It's no surprise, then, that many French words have become essential terminology in these industries.

  • Haute couture (High sewing) - The creation of exclusive, custom-fitted clothing by high-end fashion designers.
  • Pret-a-porter (Ready to wear) - Fashionable clothing that is mass-produced and sold in standard sizes, as opposed to custom-made garments.
  • Chignon (Nape of the neck) - A popular hairstyle featuring a bun worn at the back of the head.
  • Décolletage (Neckline) - The area of a woman's chest that is exposed by the neckline of her clothing.
  • Vogue - A prevailing fashion or style at a particular time.
  • Chic (Stylish) - Elegantly and stylishly fashionable.
  • Couturier (Dressmaker) - A fashion designer who manufactures and sells clothes that have been tailored to a client's specific requirements and measurements.
  • Silhouette (Outline) - The outline of a person or object, often used to describe a person's figure or shape.
  • Faux (False) - Something that is not genuine or real, often used in phrases like "faux pas" or "faux leather."
  • Sans fard (Without makeup) - A natural look, often used to describe someone who is not wearing makeup.
  • Boutique (Shop) - A small store that sells stylish clothing, accessories, or other fashionable items.
  • Petite (Small) - A clothing size designed for shorter women.
  • Bracelet (Wristband) - A decorative band or chain worn around the wrist.

These French words reflect the country's influential role in shaping global fashion and beauty trends. Using them in English adds a touch of glamour and sophistication to our conversations about style.

French words in food and cuisine

French cuisine is renowned worldwide, and French culinary terminology has greatly influenced the way we talk about food and dining in English.

  • Hors d'oeuvre (Outside the work) - An appetizer or starter course.
  • À la carte (On the card) - Ordering individual dishes from a menu in a restaurant, as opposed to a set meal.
  • Bon appétit (Good appetite) - A salutation before meals, wishing others an enjoyable eating experience.
  • Café (Coffee) - A small restaurant selling light meals and drinks.
  • Croissant - A flaky, crescent-shaped roll made from puff pastry.
  • Baguette - A long, thin loaf of French bread.
  • Crème brûlée (Burnt cream) - A dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hardened caramelized sugar.
  • Double entendre (Double meaning) - A word or phrase with two possible meanings, often with a suggestive or risqué connotation.
  • Menu (Detailed list) - A list of dishes served at a restaurant or event.
  • Apéritif (Pre-dinner drink) - An alcoholic beverage consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite.
  • Picnic (Outdoor meal) - A meal eaten outdoors, often as part of a social event or outing.
  • Bon appétit (Enjoy your meal) - A phrase used to wish someone an enjoyable dining experience.
  • Chef (Head of the kitchen) - The person in charge of a professional kitchen, responsible for creating dishes and managing the staff.
  • Cornichon (Small cucumber) - A small pickled cucumber, often served as a condiment or side dish.
  • Gâteau (Cake) - A sweet baked dessert, typically made from flour, sugar, and eggs.
  • Courgette (Zucchini) - A type of squash, often used in cooking.
  • Aubergine (Eggplant) - A purple vegetable commonly used in cooking, particularly Mediterranean dishes.
  • Restaurant (Place to eat) - An establishment where people pay to sit and eat meals prepared and served on the premises.
  • Omelette (Flat egg dish) - A dish made from beaten eggs cooked in a frying pan, often with added ingredients such as cheese, vegetables, or meat.
  • Soufflé (Breathed) - A light, fluffy baked dish made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites, often flavored with cheese, vegetables, or chocolate.
  • Roux (Red) - A mixture of flour and fat cooked together, used as a thickening agent in sauces and soups.
  • Béchamel (White sauce) - A white sauce made from a roux and milk, often used as a base for other sauces.

These words have become so ingrained in our culinary vocabulary that we often forget their French origins. They serve as a testament to the longstanding French influence on global food culture.

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French words in science, technology, and academia

French has also made significant contributions to the language of science, technology, and academia. These fields have adopted many French terms to describe complex theories, principles, and phenomena.

  • Déjà vu (Already seen) - In psychology, this term refers to the strange feeling of having experienced a current situation before, even when we know we haven't.
  • Force majeure (Superior force) - In legal and business contexts, an unforeseen event, such as a natural disaster, that prevents the fulfillment of a contract.
  • Raison d'être (Reason for being) - The most important reason or purpose for someone or something's existence.
  • Fait accompli (Accomplished fact) - A thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected by it learn about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.
  • Savoir-faire (Know how to do) - The ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations.

In these specialized fields, French words help articulate complex concepts with precision, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and understanding.

French words in law, politics, and diplomacy

The French language has had a significant impact on legal, political, and diplomatic discourse. These fields have adopted many French terms to describe specific concepts and procedures.

  • Coup d'état (Blow of state) - The sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.
  • Vis-à-vis (Face to face with) - In comparison with or in relation to; opposed to.
  • Avant-garde (Advance guard) - The forefront of any movement, field, activity, or the like.
  • Carte blanche (White card) - Complete freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best.
  • Laissez-faire (Let do) - A policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.
  • Rapprochement (Bringing together) - An establishment or resumption of harmonious relations.
  • Diplomatie (Diplomacy) - The profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations.
  • Entente (Understanding) - A friendly understanding or informal alliance between countries.
  • Prima facie (At first sight) - Something that appears to be true on its face, without further investigation.

These French words provide us with the precise language needed to discuss intricate legal, political, and diplomatic matters, highlighting the ongoing influence of French in these arenas.

French words in sports and leisure

Sports and leisure activities have also borrowed a number of French words, reflecting the international nature of these pastimes and the shared enthusiasm for competition and recreation.

  • Ballet (Dance) - A highly stylized and technical form of dance, originating in France during the Renaissance period.
  • Grand Prix (Grand Prize) - A major international auto racing competition, originally established in France.
  • Mêlée (Mixed) - In sports, particularly rugby, a confused mass of players and bodies.
  • Parcours (Course) - In sports, the layout or path that must be followed in a race or competition; also used in the context of parkour, an athletic discipline.
  • Touché (Touched) - In fencing, a term used to acknowledge a hit by an opponent.
  • Avant-garde (Vanguard) - Innovative or experimental ideas or works, especially in the arts.
  • Tour de force (Feat of strength) - An impressive display of skill or accomplishment. These French words enrich our discussions of sports and leisure, adding a touch of international flair to our descriptions of these activities.

French words in architecture and design

French words have also found their way into the world of architecture and design, reflecting the country's rich cultural and artistic heritage.

  • Façade (Face) - The front of a building, often designed to be the most visually striking and ornamental aspect.
  • Fleur-de-lis (Lily flower) - A stylized design of a lily, often used as a decorative motif in heraldry, architecture, and design.
  • Trompe l'oeil (Deceive the eye) - A style of painting or decorating that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space or objects on a flat surface.
  • Château (Castle) - A large country house or mansion in France, often associated with the nobility and aristocracy.
  • Parterre (On the ground) - A formal garden design featuring geometric patterns, often using low-growing plants or gravel to create the shapes.
  • Boudoir (A private sitting room) - A woman's private room or bedroom.

These French terms provide a sophisticated and nuanced vocabulary for discussing architecture and design, highlighting the influence of French culture and aesthetics in these fields.

The depth and breadth of French influence on English vocabulary are truly astounding. From everyday conversation to specialized fields, French words have enriched the English language, adding a layer of complexity, sophistication, and nuance. These 100 words are just a snapshot of the many French terms we use regularly in English, a testament to the enduring French touch that shapes the way we express ourselves.

From "Bonjour" to "Diplomatie," these words tell the story of a linguistic journey that transcends borders and cultures, reminding us of the power of language to connect us and enrich our shared human experience.

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