Tag Archives: French Words and Phrases

Use of French Words and Phrases in the English language

The English language has a great influence of French on its vocabulary, and there are many words from the French origin that are used daily while speaking English. Many of the words might have the same meaning but have been modified in the spelling, but it cannot be denied that they share French roots. It is estimated that near about 28% of the English vocabulary consists of words that have been included from the French language. Like, force, machine, publicity, etc. are of French origin, but presently are used and pronounced as per the English orthography.

French orthography includes nasal vowels that are entire absent from the English language. There are a lot of phrases and words that are being used in the English language without realising that they have been adopted from the French language. Let us study a few of the words and phrases that have transformed English in its modern sense as we study it today.

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Bijou

It is proper French word that has been adopted by the English language. In French, this word means a small gem. However, in the English language, the same word has been adopted but with entirely different meaning and use. From a small jewel in French Bijou was converted to anything stylish with a small size. It might sound funny but is a reality that how the same word has two different meanings. If a person speaking English uses Bijou in any aspect other than jewels in front of a French speaking person, then he might get puzzled and do not understand the reason for using it.

For example, in English one would write, And this was not some tiny bijou hotel foyer. This means that the hotel was not small. The French would use bijou as Je vais vous achater un bijou! It means that I will buy you a jewel.

Femme fatale

This phrase is used as it is in the English vocabulary carrying the same meaning as it has in the French language. The meaning of this phrase means a deadly and seductive woman. It is generally used to describe a woman who is quite dangerous. In English and French it carries the same meaning, but while using this phrase, no one would have ever wondered that it is not an English phrase rather it has been adopted from French. A slight difference is that when this phrase in English is has a very subtle meaning that is a dangerous woman, but in contrast, when the same is used in French it feels to be more sassy in the meaning.

Panache

 In its real sense, the panache is a French word that means a feather or ornament worn above the hat as a decorative item. However, the word found a change in its definition when Henri IV showed courage and bravery. Thus is became a synonym of flamboyance since then. Even though the word is used in English with the same spelling and meaning, but it has less use here. It is majorly used in the French. However, there are still cases where panache is used in daily English conversations.

Je ne sais quoi

When a French person sees something that is very attractive but cannot be expressed in words, he will use the phrases Je ne sais quoi. This phrase has been adopted in the English language but with a reduced intensity of expressions. In English, it would imply a person does not have words to describe anything. However, it can be in positive as well negative sense, but in French has a more of a positive inclination. Thus, one can say that the French expression of the phrase is much more effective than its adopted English version.

Exposé

In the beginning, the word expose was used as a noun meaning telling the reason behind any decision or logic used to solve any problem. Over the years it evolved to be used for unveiling the secret behind any scandal. It came to be associated with a single meaning and bringing in light the faces or facts that have been involved in a fraud. This word means exactly the same in French also. However, in English, it has been modified in the way it is written i.e. expose. Except this, there is no other difference in the meaning or use of this French word.

Eau de toilette

This phrase might sound a little familiar to you. You have read this phrase every time you would have read the contents of a perfume bottle. In earlier times the literal meaning of this phrase is toilet water. Do not get shocked! The times have gone and also the use of the phrase being used for toilet water. However, the meaning of Eau de toilette has now transformed to being a light perfume both in English and French. Hence, you can be relaxed about buying a perfume, but try to notice the phrase printed on you bottle and resist laughing.

Gauche

Talking of French people the word literally means left to them, but the English modification of the word is a little different. In English vocabulary, the word Gauche means something awkward. There is a lot of difference in both the meanings. However, it is assumed that the modification has been adopted because it becomes awkward for the left-handers to live in a place where there is a maximum number of right-handers. Thus, when used in French, it might convey a different meaning.

Here one can see the similarities as well as the differences in the words and phrases that have been adopted in English vocabulary from the French language. There are some adoptions that find a more elaborative meaning in English while others make more sense when used in French.

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Whatever be the case it is difficult to deny that English language’s many words have French origin which is unknown to many. Thus, next time you use any English word try to find out the history of its existence and from where it came to be used in English. It is interesting to know that how two entirely different languages have so much in common to share.