“F” is for Frenchification

letter-f-967825-mFrenchification is the use of French words and terms in English, and as the language associated with Romance, many words find their way into English because of their appeal. Some make it without any alteration, but others are anglicised. We love French terms so much that we even like to add a dash of French to words that are not French.  Many words you will recognise immediately as Francaise, but there are some words that may surprise you. Let’s have a look at a smattering of the many French words and expressions we find in English.

a la carte — Literally means “on the menu” and refers to individual dishes rather than a complete meal.

abattoir — slaughterhouse.

amateur  — A person who pursues a hobby, study or activity without pay.

ballet — A flowing form of dance.

belle — A beautiful woman or girl.

blasé — Unimpressed with something because of familiarity.

bon appétit — Lit. “good appetite”. Enjoy your meal.

bon voyage — Lit. “good journey”. Enjoy your trip.

boulevard — A type of large road in a city.

bureau — An office; originally meaning a “desk”.

café — Coffee shop.

carte blanche — Lit. “white card”. A blank cheque or unlimited authority.

chic — stylish.

cliché — An overused phrase.

coup d’état — Political coup; government overthrow.

critique — A critical analysis or evaluation of a work.

cul-de-sac  — Lit. “buttocks of the bag”, referring to a dead end street.

décor — Layout and furnishing of a room.

déjà vu — Lit. “already seen”. The feeling that you have experienced something before.

en route — On the way.

entrée — Lit. “entrance”; the first course of a meal.

entrepreneur —   A person who takes charge of an enterprise or venture.

extraordinaire — Extraordinary.

fait accompli — “Accomplished fact”; a done deal.

faux pas — “False step”; violation of accepted social rules.

fiancé(e) — man/woman engaged to be married.

genre — a type or class (thriller, fantasy etc)

impasse — A situation offering no escape.

je ne sais quoi — “I don’t know what”. An indefinable something.

liaison — A close relationship or connection.

lingerie — Female underwear (ooh la la!)

malaise — A general feeling of depression or unease.

mêlée — A confused fight; struggling crowd

omelette — Dish made from beaten eggs cooked flat in the pan.

parkour — urban street sport involving climbing and leaping, using buildings, walls, curbs to bounce off much as if one were on a skateboard.

parole — speech. Regular interview with a person under conditions of release from prison.

raison d’être — “reason for being”.

sabotage — Subversive destruction. From sabots: wooden shoes that were used to destroy machinery.

sans — without.

sombre —  Dismal, dim, shadowy.

venue — Location of an event.

This is just a sample of the many words and expressions English borrows from the French. I referred to Wikipedia for these words. I reapplied the original accents to the words, but these are not often used in modern English texts.


“E” is for euphemisms

letter-e-monogram-mdEuphemisms have become more popular in this age of political correctness. It is often easier to use polite or toned down words and expressions to describe something that is distressing or distasteful; and perhaps a little too controversial. We have all used them in one way or another. Maybe we wanted to avoid embarrassment by saying we wanted to “spend a penny” or visit the “bathroom“, “restroom” or simply the “loo“.  When someone dies, we soften the blow in saying they have “passed away“, and if we need to euthanise a much beloved family pet, we have it “put to sleep“. The delicate matter of saying someone was naked is to say we saw them in their “birthday suit” or “au naturale“. And although the subject of sex has become more of an accepted norm in contemporary society, we may still baulk at saying someone had sex, substituting that they “slept together” or any number of imaginative alternatives. The shame of mentioning that someone you know has been jailed or imprisoned is to say that they spent some time in a “correctional centre“, and even the government authority handling prisoners is called the Department of Corrections.

The darker side of euphemisms raises its head when governments and military authorities attempt to reduce the severity of an action in the eyes of the public. They use terms such as “ethnic cleansing” when they mean that they are killing people because of their culture, race and religion. Many men, women and children are often killed as an accidental result of war or battle, but instead of the brutal truth of their unintended slaughter, they are merely dismissed as “collateral damage“. Remember the movie of that name with Arnold Schwarzenegger in which his character’s wife and child are killed by a terrorist’s bomb? A war becomes a “police action” in which the military may refer to a “target rich environment” for buildings, factories etc.

I am sure you can think of many more euphemisms, some more impolite than using the word itself, especially when we refer to those parts of our bodies that we may regard as “dirty” or “naughty“. Former British comedy duo The Two Ronnies were the masters at making fun of euphemisms and puns … but puns are another tale.