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Bernard M -- Taipei English Tutor

Bernard M - English Conversation / TOEFL / IELTS 一對一英文會話

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Commonly Used French Words

This is a list of French words or phrases often used in English. It is only a partial list from I deleted many of the entries that did not seem all that common. Even so, it is still a surprisingly long list.


ancien régime
the previous administration/government/reign. Note that in English usage it is often used to mean in particular pre-Revolution France, or the past in general, but this is not the French usage, which has the particular meaning as given
après nous, le déluge
"after us, the flood"; that is, things will be disastrous after we have gone (or died). Attributed to Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France
au contraire
on the contrary


plenty, lots of, much; merci beaucoup: thanks a lot
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
bon appétit
literally "good appetite"; enjoy your meal
bon mot
well-chosen word(s), particularly a witty remark
bon voyage
"have a nice trip" (as in, 'I wish you a pleasant trip')
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.


cause célèbre
literally "famous case", but used to refer to any long-running social, legal and political situation involving public campaigning on one or both sides.
c'est la vie
"that's life"
comme ci, comme ça
"like this, like that"; or some people might say "so and so"
coup de grâce
a killing blow (literally "blow of mercy")
coup d'état
a sudden blow to a state (normally a sudden, often violent, regime change)
crème de la crème
best of the best (or "cream of the crop")
literally "bottom-of-the-bag" or "arse-of-the-bag"; refers to a dead-end street (or no through road)


déjà vu
"already seen"; seeing something you have seen again, probably in similar settings


more, still, yet; encore une fois: once more, again
en masse
in a mass or group, all together
esprit de corps
team spirit
excusez-moi !
excuse me!; often used sarcastically


fait accompli
the thing is done, it is too late discuss whether to do it
faux pas
literally "false step"; a violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules
femme fatale
literally "fatal/deadly woman"; an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men in order to achieve personal goals after which she discards of 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
fin de siècle
"end of the century"; relating to the culture pertaining at the end of the 19th century


haute couture
Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; literally "high sewing"
hors d'œuvre
appetizer (starter) ; literally "outside of the work" (of the main meal)


"let do"; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference

in lieu of: "instead of", "in the place of". For example, "In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the deceased's charity of choice."


maître d'
a shortening of maître d'hôtel, meaning "master of the hall"; used to refer to a head waiter
ménage à trois
"household of three"; a romantic and/or sexual relationship consisting of three individuals in a single household, an arrangement of three individuals engaging in simultaneous sexual activity with one another


"work", in the sense of an artist's work (as in, for instance, "I am studying Molière's great œuvre, Le Misanthrope"), and often, by extension, an artist's lifetime's achievements (for example "I am studying Molière's complete œuvre, including his great comedy of manners Le Misanthrope")


pièce de résistance
"piece of endurance" or "piece of staying power"; item that excels in quality and/or value from the rest of a collection
plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
the more things change, the more they stay the same; often shortened to plus ça change


raison d'être
the basic reason or purpose to exist
raison d'état
reason of state
appointment, meeting place
abbreviation of répondez, s'il vous plaît, which politely requests the recipient to reply to an invitation ("please respond")


literally "without knee-britches/trousers"; refers to lower-class Parisian republicans in the French Revolution, in modern use to those holding strong republican views
literally "know how to do"; to respond appropriately to any situation.


"head to head"; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people
tour de force
"act of strength"; a brilliant feat
tout de suite
"at once", "immediately" (per Oxford English Dictionary). Sometimes shortened to tout suite


"face-to-face"; opposed to, compared with, in relation to
voilà !
this word is one of the most common and familiar French words in the English language[citation needed]. A compound word formed from voir (to see) and là (there), it would be translated literally as "see there". Though having more uses in French, in English it is usually used in the same way as "presto", or "ta-da", as in when presenting or making something.

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