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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 Anglicised. They are now pronounced according to English rules of orthography, rather than French (which uses nasal vowels not found in English). Between 60% and 70% 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.

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.

Few of these phrases are common knowledge to all English speakers, and most are rarely if ever used in daily conversation.

Contents

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 English and French

A

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 
literally: on the card or on the menu; (in restaurants refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal)
à propos 
regarding (note that the correct French syntax is à propos de)
abattoir 
slaughterhouse
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. It is used for "au revoir" in south of France[1] and to point a deprivation from someone or something.
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"). In French : before-meal drink, not necessary followed by a meal. Cornerstone of French sociability.
appellation contrôlée 
supervised use of a name. For the conventional use of the term, see Appellation d'origine contrôlée
après moi, le déluge 
literally: After me, the deluge; remark attributed to Louis XV of France; used in reference to the impending end of a functioning French monarchy and predicting the French Revolution. No. 617 Squadron Royal Air Force, famously known as the "Dambusters", uses this as its motto. Also a verse in the song Après Moi by Regina Spektor.
arête 
a narrow ridge. In French, also fishbone; edge of a polyhedron or graph; bridge of the nose.
armoire 
a type of cabinet; wardrobe.
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, to tight, to be linked...)
au contraire 
on the contrary.
au courant 
up-to-date; abreast of current affairs.
au fait 
being conversant in or with, or instructed in or with.
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.'. No longer used in French, except for the slang "être au jus" (to be informed)
au pair 
a young foreigner who does domestic chores in exchange for room and board. In France, those chores are mainly child care/education.
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")

B

ballet 
a classical type of dance
beau geste 
literally "beautiful gesture"; gracious gesture; also, a gesture noble in form but meaningless in substance. in French : a selfless/generous/fair-play act.
Beaux-Arts 
monumental architectural style of the early 20th century made famous by the Académie des Beaux-Arts
beaucoup 
plenty, lots of, much; merci beaucoup: thanks a lot; misused in slang, for example "beaucoup money" (French would add the preposition de : "beaucoup d'argent"), especially in New Orleans, LA. Occasionally corrupted to Bookoo, typically in the context of French influenced by Vietnamese culture.
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
bien pensant 
literally "well thinking"; right thinking, orthodox
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
bourgeois 
member of the bourgeoisie. The word used to refer to shopkeepers living in towns in the Middle Ages. Now the term is derogatory, and it applies to a person whose beliefs, attitudes, and practices are conventionally middle-class.
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.
brioche 
a sweet yeast bun, kind of a crossover between a popover and a light muffin; French also use the term as slang for 'potbelly', because of the overhang effect.
brunette 
a brown-haired girl. For brown-haired man, French uses brun and for a woman brune. "Brunette" is rarely used in French, unless in old literature, and its masculine form, "brunet" (for a boy), is almost unheard of.
bureau (pl. bureaux
office. Also means "desk" in French.

C

ça ne fait rien 
"that doesn't matter"; rendered as san fairy Ann in British WWI slang [2].
cachet 
lit. "stamp"; a distinctive quality ; quality, prestige.
café 
a coffee shop (also used in French for "coffee").
café au lait 
coffee with milk; or a light-brown color. In medicine, it is also used to describe a birthmark that is of a light-brown color (café au lait spot).
calque 
a copied term/thing
carte blanche 
unlimited authority; literally "white card" (i.e. blank check).
carte de visite 
a calling card, literally "visiting card".
carte d'identité 
identity card.
ce n'est pas grave
"It doesn't matter, it's not a big deal" (informal).
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.  
"That's the 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.
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 / chacun à son goût [all are used] 
"to each his (their) own taste(s)" or "each to his own taste".
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. Often referred as simply "les Champs" ; l'"Élysée" (or "palais de l'Élysée") refers to the French Republic President's main residence, which is situated close to the Champs-Élysées. Figuratively, it also means the President himself (equivalent to the saying "the White House decided...").
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.
charlatan 
a person who is a fraud, a fake, a hoaxer, a deceiver, a con artist.
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.
chauffeur 
driver
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
cinq, cinque 
five; normally referring to the 5 on dice or cards. In French, always spelt cinq.
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. In France, used for an airline pilot (le commandant de bord), in the Army as appellative for a chef de bataillon or a chef d'escadron (roughly equivalent to a major) or in the Navy for any officer from capitaine de corvette to capitaine de vaisseau (equivalent to the Army's majors, lieutenant-colonels and colonels) or for any officer heading a ship.
comme ci, comme ça 
"like this, like that"; so-so, neither good nor bad. In French, usu. couci-couça.
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 a capital C in French, it refers to the 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 (law Church-State separation) but is still in use in Alsace-Lorraine (those territories were under German administration during 1871–1918)
confrère 
a colleague, esp. in the medical and law professions.
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-coup
against the blow
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 processions.
corvée 
forced labor for minimal or no pay. In French, overall an unpleasant/tedious task.
cotte d'armes 
coat of arms.
coup de foudre 
lit. thunderbolt ("strike of thunder"); a sudden unforeseen event, usually used to describe 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). Frequently pronounced without the final "s" sound by English speakers who believe that any such sound at the end of a French word is supposed to be silent.
coup de maître 
stroke of the master, master stroke
coup d'œil 
a glance, literally "a blow (or touch) of the eye".
coup de théâtre 
unexpected dramatic turn of events, a plot twist
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. A synonymous expression in French is « fin du fin ».
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 cœur 
"cry from the heart" : an impassioned outcry, as of entreaty or protest
croissant 
a crescent-shaped bread made of flaky pastry
cri d'amour 
a "cry of love"
critique 
a critical analysis or evaluation of a work, or the art of criticizing.
cuisine minceur 
gourmet cooking for staying thin
cul-de-sac 
a dead-end (residential) street; literally "bottom (buttocks) of the bag".

D

d'accord 
in accord; agreed; sure; OK; of course
de nouveau 
again; anew. Cf. de novo
de règle 
according to custom;
de rigueur 
required or expected, especially in fashion or etiquette
de trop 
excessive, "too much"
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; décolletage is dealt with below.
décor 
the layout and furnishing of a room
découpage 
decoration with cut paper
demi-glace 
a reduced wine-based sauce for meats and poultry
demi-sec 
semi-dry, usually said of wine
déjà vu 
"already seen" : an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
dénouement 
the end result
dérailleur 
a bicycle gear-shift mechanism
dernier cri 
the latest fashion; literally "latest 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
diablerie 
witchcraft, deviltry, or, more figuratively, "wickedness"
Dieu et mon droit
motto of the British Monarchy. It appears on a scroll beneath the shield of the coat of arms of the United Kingdom.
directeur sportif
lit. sports director. A person responsible for the operation of a cycling team during a road bicycle race. In French, it means any kind of sports director.
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"

E

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
écarté 
a card game; also a ballet position
échappé 
dance movement foot position
éclair 
a cream and chocolate icing pastry
éclat 
Great brilliance, as of performance or achievement. Conspicuous success. Great acclamation or applause
écorché 
flayed; biological graphic or model with skin removed
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
(je suis) enchanté(e) 
"(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
escritoire 
writing desk; spelled "écritoire" in current French
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)
extraordinaire 
extraordinary, usually as a following adjective, as "musician extraordinaire"
et toi ? 
and you? (Je m'appelle (your name), Et toi ?)(my name is (your name) and yours?)

F

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. A done deal. In French only used in the expression "placer/mettre quelqu'un devant le fait accompli" meaning to present somebody with a fait accompli.
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
feuilleton 
"little leaf of paper" : a periodical, or part of a periodical, consisting chiefly of non-political news and gossip, literature and art criticism, a chronicle of the latest fashions, and epigrams, charades and other literary trifles.
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
flambé 
a cooking procedure in which alcohol (ethanol) is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames, meaning "flamed" in French. Also used colloquially in reference to something on fire or burned.
flambeau 
a lit 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)
froideur 
coldness (for behavior and manners only)

G

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 is condescending in French)
gauche 
tactless, does not mean "left-handed" (which is translated in French as "gaucher"), but does mean "left"
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. French People usually shorten the sentence, to "les goûts et les couleurs..."
grâce à 
"thanks to", "by the grace of", naming credit or fortune
Grand Prix 
a type of motor racing, literally "Great 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.)

H

habitué 
one who regularly frequents a place
haute couture 
"high sewing" : Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion
haute cuisine 
upscale gastronomy; literally "upper cooking".
haute école 
advanced horsemanship; literally "upper school"
hauteur 
arrogance; lit. height
haut monde 
fashionable society, the "upper world"
homme du monde 
cultured, sophisticated man, "man of the 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

I

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

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.
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 t'aime 
I love you. Implies "I like you" too. The French word "aimer" implies all the different kinds of love (love = like). In order to differentiate the two, one would say simply "je t'aime" to one's love whereas one would say "je t'aime bien" (lit. I love you well) to a friend.
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"

K

---

L

laïcité 
separation of the State and the different Churches (at first, it concerned especially Catholicism). In France, where the concept originated, it means an absence of religious interference in government affairs and government interference in religious affairs. But the concept is often assimilated and changed by other countries. For example, in Belgium, it usually means the secular-humanist movement and school of thought.
laissez-faire 
"let do"; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference. The phrase is the shortcut of Laissez faire, laissez passer, a doctrine first supported by the Physiocrats in the 18th century. The motto was invented by Vincent de Gournay, and it became popular among supporters of free-trade and economic liberalism. It is also used to describe a parental style in developmental psychology, where the parent(s) does not apply rules nor guiding.
laissez-passer 
a travel document, a passport
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, who would say "profitez des bons moments" (enjoy the good moments)
lamé 
a type of fabric woven or knit with metallic yarns
lanterne rouge 
the last-place finisher in a cycling stage race; most commonly used in connection with the Tour de France
layette 
a set of clothing and accessories for a new baby
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)
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 (can be pejorative in French, meaning someone who writes a lot but does not have a particular skill)
louche 
of questionable taste;
Louis Quatorze 
"Louis XIV" (of France), the Sun King, usually a reference to décor or furniture design. Also the namesake of the winner of the 1996 Preakness.
Louis Quinze 
"Louis XV" (of France), associated with the rococo style of furniture, architecture and interior decoration

M

macramé 
coarse lace work made with knotted cords
mademoiselle 
young unmarried lady, miss; literally "my noble young lady"
mais oui 
"but of course!". Often used as a sarcastic reply in French, in order to close the debate by feigning to agree.
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"
merde alors 
"shit then"
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 God!
monsieur (pl. messieurs) 
a man, a gentleman. Also used as a title, equivalent to Mr. or Sir.
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 French, means any type of foam

N

naturellement 
naturally
, née 
"born" : a man/woman’s birth name (maiden name for a woman), e.g., "Martha Washington, née 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 
new
nouveau riche 
newly rich, used in English to refer particularly to those living a garish lifestyle with their newfound wealth.
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.)

O

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
orange 
orange
ouais 
yeah
oui 
yes

P

panache 
verve; flamboyance
papier-mâché 
lit. chewed paper; a craft medium using paper and paste
par avion 
by air mail. The meaning is broader in French, it means by plane in general.
par excellence 
"by excellence" : quintessential
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 "route".
pas de deux 
a close relationship between two people; a duet in ballet
pas de problème 
no problem
pas de trois 
a dance for three, usually in ballet.
passe-partout 
a document or key that allows the holder to travel without hindrance from the authorities or 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."
la petite mort 
an expression for orgasm; literally "the little death"
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
piste 
referring to skiing at a ski area (on piste) versus skiing in the back country (off piste).
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"
plongeur (fem. plongeuse) 
a male (or female) dishwasher
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
pomme 
apple
porte cochère 
an architectural term referring to a kind of porch or portico-like structure.
poseur 
"poser" : a person who pretends to be something he is not; an affected or insincere person: a wannabe
pot-au-feu 
stew, soup
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.[3]
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
première dame 
"first lady"
protégé/e 
a man/woman who receives support from an influential mentor.
provocateur 
a polemicist

Q

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 is living?" (modern language : who is here ?) : a sentry's challenge. Obsolete, but for the expressions "sur le qui-vive" (literally "on the point of saying qui vive") — on the alert, vigilant — and "il n'y a pas âme qui vive" (literally "no soul is/lives here", soul meaning person).
quoi de neuf? 
"What's new?" What's up?

R

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).
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.
rôle 
a part or function of a person in a situation or an actor in a play
roman à clef 
"novel with a key" : an account of actual persons, places or events in fictional guise
roux 
a cooked mixture of flour and fat used as a base in soups and gravies

S

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. 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
sauté 
lit. jumped ; quickly fry in a small amount of oil.
sauve qui peut! 
those who can should save themselves. Used as a pragmatic response to an accident. 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 (SVP)
"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 pejoratively
il faut souffrir pour être belle
"beauty does not come without suffering" ; lit. "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."

T

tableau 
chalkboard. The meaning is broader in French : all type of board (chalkboard, whiteboard, notice board...). Refers also to a painting (see tableau vivant, below) or a table (chart).
tant mieux 
so much the better.
tant pis 
"too bad," "oh well, that's tough".
tenné 
orange-browm, 'rust' colour, not commonly used outside of heraldic emblazoning.
tête-à-tête 
"head to head"; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people.
toilette 
the process of dressing or grooming. Also refers in French, when plural ("les toilettes"), to the toilet room.
torsade de pointes 
meaning "twisting around a point", used to describe a particular type of heart rhythm.
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 
lit. everything (else) follows; "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"

U

unique  
One of a kind. Unique is considered a paradigmatic absolute and therefore something cannot be very unique.

V

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. Lit. sold (past tense of "vendre" = to sell); used as a noun, it means someone who betrays for money.
venu/e 
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 neighbours' are within sighting distance (more precisely, that you can see inside of their home).
viva, vive [...]! 
"Long live...!"; lit. "Live"; as in "Vive la France!", "Vive la République!", 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 sleep with me (tonight)? " 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". In French, it is a rude and cheesy pick-up line ("coucher" is vulgar in French).
voyeur 
lit. someone who sees; a peeping tom.

W - X - Y - Z

le zinc 
bar/café counter.
zut alors! 
"Damn it!" or the British expression "Blimey!", a general exclamation. Just plain zut is also in use — often repeated for effect, for example, zut, zut et zut! There is an album by Frank Zappa titled Zoot Allures. The phrase is also used on the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update sketch by recurring character Jean K. Jean, played by Kenan Thompson.

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; often 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 indicates that in the context of the arts, "arts appliqués" is synonym of decorative arts.
après-ski 
after skiing socializing after a ski session; in French, this word refers to boots used to walk in snow (e.g. MoonBoots).
artiste 
a skilled performer, a person with artistic pretentions. In French : an artist. Can be used ironically for a person demonstrating little professional skills or passion.
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" : canned tuna without any spices or oil. Also in heraldry, meaning "in natural colours", especially flesh colour, which is not one of the "standard" colours of heraldry.
à la mode 
fashionable; also, with ice cream (in the U.S.) or with cheese in some U.S. regions. In French, it only means "fashionable".
baguette 
a long, narrow loaf of bread with a crispy crust, otherwise called 'French bread' in the United Kingdom and United States. In French, a "baguette" refers to many objects which are long and narrow, including some kind of bread described above (which has also some subvarieties), a magical wand or chopsticks. Also, there are many varieties of bread, and some "French bread" are not called in France "baguette", but rather "épi" or "ficelle".
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. The dictionary of the Académie française only admits its use for people, though other dictionaries admits it for things or ideas too. It's familiar in French.
boutique 
a clothing store, usually selling designer/one off pieces rather than mass-produced clothes. Can also describe a quirky and/or upmarket hotel. In french, it can describe any shop, clothing or otherwise.
boutonnière 
In English, a boutonnière is a flower placed in the buttonhole of a suit jacket. In French, a boutonnière is the buttonhole itself.
bureau de change (pl. bureaux de change)
a currency exchange. In French, it means the office where you can change your currency.
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.
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.
cinq à sept 
extraconjugal affair between five and seven pm. In French, though it can also mean this, it primarily means any relaxing time with friends between the end of work and the beginning of the marital obligations.
chanson 
1) a classical "art song," equiv. to the German lied or the Italian aria; or 2) in Russian, a cabaret-style sung narrative, usually rendered by a guttural male voice with guitar accompaniment. In French, it simply means a song.
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).
coiffeur 
hairstyle. In French, means a hairstylist, a hairdresser, a barber.
connoisseur 
an expert in wines, fine arts, or other matters of culture; a person of refined taste. It is spelled connaisseur in modern French.
corsage 
A bouquet of flowers worn on a woman's dress or worn around her wrist. In French, it refers to a woman's chest (from shoulder to waist) and, by extension, the part of a woman's garment which covers this area.
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). It also can NOT be shortened as "coup", which means something else altogether in French.
crudité 
an appetizer consisting 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 as outside of the meal), with or without a vinaigrette or another sauce. Almost always used in the plural form in French (as in, crudités).
début 
first public performance of an entertainment personality or group. In French, it means "beginning". The English sense of the word exist only when in plural form : "[faire] ses débuts [sur scène]" (to make one's débuts on the scene).
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[4] 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 «Une autre !» (Another one !) to request « un rappel » (an encore).
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 ont dit 'dehors' en choeur" ([like a chorus]). Also, 'en masse' refers to numerous people or objects (a crowd or a mountain of things).
en suite 
as a set (do not confuse with "ensuite", meaning "then"). In French, "suite", when in the context of a hotel, already means several rooms following each other. "J'ai loué une suite au Ritz" would be translated as "I rented a suite at the Ritz". "En suite" is not grammatically incorrect in French, but it's not an expression in itself and it is not used.
épée 
a fencing weapon descended from the duelling sword. In French, apart from fencing (the sport) the term is more generic : it means sword.
escritoire
a writing table. It is spelt écritoire in modern French.
exposé 
a published exposure of a fraud or scandal (past participle of "to expose"); in French refers to a talk or a report on any kind of subject.
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' (an extraordinary male musician, but the latter emphasizes his being extraordinary).
femme 
a stereotypically effeminate gay man or lesbian (slang, pronounced as written). In French, femme (pronounced 'fam') means "woman".
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. In French, it means "end of the century", but it isn't a recognized expression as such.
foible 
a minor weakness or quirkiness. The word is spelt faible in French and means "weak" (adjective). Weakness is translated as faiblesse (noun).
forte 
a strength, a strong point, typically of a person, from the French fort (strong) and/or Italian forte (strong, esp. "loud" in music) and/or Latin forte (neutral form of fortis, strong). French use "fort" both for people and objects.
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 [French doesn't pronounce the final "t"]. 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."
The New Oxford Dictionary of English derives it from fencing. In French, "le fort d'une épée" is the third of a spade nearer the hilt, the strongest part of the sword used for parrying.
fromage 
cheese. Used in place of Say cheese. when taking pictures of people to get them to smile, one would utter Say fromage. French people would use the English word "cheese" or "ouistiti".
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. Grammatically correct but not used in French, where one might say "Tout est dans la sauce" or "C'est la sauce qui fait (passer) le poisson" (also fig.).
marquee 
the sign above a theater that tells you what's playing. From "marquise" which not only means a marchioness but also an awning. Theater buildings are generally old and nowadays there's never such a sign above them anymore; there's only the advertisement for the play (l'affiche).
naïve 
a man or woman lacking experience, understanding or sophistication. In French, it only refers to the latest two and often has a pejorative connotation, as in gullible. Also, naïve can only be used for women; the masculine form is "naïf".
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!" or "uh-oh!" The "wowie" intent does exist in French, but is not as pretentious as the English usage.
outré 
out of the ordinary, unusual. In French, it means outraged (for a person) or exaggerated, extravagant, overdone (for a thing, esp. a praise, an actor's style of acting, etc.) (In that second meaning, belongs to "literary" style.)
passé 
out of fashion. The correct expression in French is "passé de mode". Passé means past, passed, or (for a colour) faded.
peignoir
a woman’s dressing gown. In French it is a bathrobe. A dressing gown is a "robe de chambre" (lit. a bedroom dress).
petite 
small; waiflike; skinny; In French, it only means small and does not have those other connotations it has in English. Also, this is the feminine form of the adjective (used for girls...); the masculine form is "petit".
philosophe 
a French intellectual and writer of the Enlightenment. In French, it applies to any philosopher.
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").
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; more often, a clothes hanger. The equivalent of the English "portemanteau" is un mot-valise (lit. a suitcase word).
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. Literally, 'Précis' means precise, accurate.
premier 
prime minister or head of government. In French, it is only an adjective meaning "first".
première 
refers to the first performance of a play, a film, etc. In French, it means "the first", and only for a live performance; it cannot be used as a verb ("the film premiered on November" is the equivalent of "the film firsted in November").
raisonneur 
a type of author intrusion in which a writer inserts a character to argue the author's viewpoint ; alter ego, sometimes called 'author avatar'. In French, a "raisonneur" is a character which stands for moral and reason in a play, i.e. not necessarily the author's point of view. The first meaning of this word though is a man (fem. raisonneuse) who overdo reasonings, who tires by objecting with numerous arguments to every order.
recherché 
lit. searched; obscure; pretentious. In French, means sophisticated or delicate, or simply studied, without the negative connotations of the English.
reprise 
repetition of previous music in a suite, programme, etc. In French it may mean an alternate version of a piece of music, or a cover version. To express the repetition of a previous musical theme, French would exclusively use the Italian term coda.
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. (like most other English speakers)
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 sometimes "dévergondé" (very formal language). "Osé", unlike "dévergondé", cannot be used for people themselves, only for things (pictures...) or attitudes.
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, you eat with 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).
art deco 
a style of decoration and architecture of the early 20th century made famous by the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes. Spelled "art déco" (note the accent) in French.
brassiere 
French use brassière (note the accent). Also, the French equivalent of "bra" would be "un soutien-gorge" (which can be familiarly abbreviated as soutif). A "brassière", in French, is a special kind of woman undergarment for sports ; larger than a simple "soutien-gorge", it offers a better support of the breast.
cinquefoil 
five-petal, five-leaf flower of the genus Potentilla, family Rosaceae; also a circular 5-lobed ornamental design. Spelt quintefeuille in French.
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. Frenchmen still use "une demi-mondaine" to qualify a woman that lives (exclusively or partially) of the commerce of her charms but in a high-life style.
demitasse 
small cup, usually for coffee. Comes from "une demi-tasse", literally a half cup. It's not an expression as such in French.
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.[citation needed] 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, or in a close sense for dedication of an artwork to another.
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.
pièce de résistance 
the best; the main meal, literally "a piece that resists". Francophones use plat de résistance (main dish).
repertoire 
the range of skills of a particular person or group. It is spelt répertoire, in French ; also, the meaning is slightly different : it means the range of songs / musics a person or group can play.
reservoir 
a holding tank for liquids; an artificial pond for water. It is spelt réservoir, in French.
succès de scandale 
Success through scandal; Francophones might use « succès par médisance ».
voir dire 
jury selection (Law French). Literally "to speak the truth".[5] (Anglo-Norman voir [truth] is etymologically unrelated to the modern French voir [to see].)[6]

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 to 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

References

  1. ^ Larousse definition for "adieu"
  2. ^ Eric Partridge: Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1951
  3. ^ http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1469618
  4. ^ http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/generic/cherche.exe?22;s=3375794295;;
  5. ^ voir dire The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2006)
  6. ^ voir The Anglo-Norman Dictionary

External links


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