English Words that Actually Come from French
Throughout its history, the English language has borrowed many words from other languages. Although it is a Germanic language, it is influenced by Latin, Greek, and French in particular.
History and Phrasing
After the Norman conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror and his cohorts brought their dialect of French to England’s upper class. For the next three centuries, much of the English nobility and government spoke French. Their use of French permeated the English language, and many French words and even some aspects of French grammar remain in modern English. Read on for several English words and phrases that come from French!
French for “already seen” or “already saw” describes the eerie phenomenon of having lived through a particular experience without explaining exactly when. Déjà vu is a loan word from French and is often italicized in English or written without accents.
This French military term is most often used to describe creative fields like fine art, fashion, and design. The phrase translates to “vanguard” or “advance guard” to describe the part of an army that heads to battle ahead of the rest. The military reference suggests the risky, daring aspect of avant garde art; it may be the very beginning of a trend that becomes widespread, or it may falter and die out when exposed to the masses.
Unlike some of the other words on this list, “jargon” doesn’t necessarily look or sound French. However, it is derived from the old French word jargoun, a variant of gargon or gargun, which means chatter or gibberish.
Translated from French, hors d’oeuvre means “outside of the work.” That is to say, “not part of the ordinary meal.” An hors d’oeuvre should be a dish that stands on its own as a snack or supports the main course.
Embassy is one of many words surrounding diplomacy or foreign policy that come from French. Several others include diplomat, envoy, and attaché.
The initialism RSVP comes from the French phrase, Répondez s’il vous plaît, which means “Respond, if you please.” The initialism has turned into a verb used whenever indicating attendance to or absence from an event.
The direct translation of this phrase means “bottom of the bag,” although the French use the term the same way English speakers do: to describe a road without passage.
This French term literally means “an accomplished fact” and is used in English to describe a seemingly irreversible executed feat. French use of the word is very similar and is often used in the phrase placer/mettre quelqu’un devant le fait accompli: “to put or place someone before the accomplished fact. Fait accompli may be used in conjunction with “a point of no return.”
Don’t Feel Intimidated.
Are you feeling intimidated by the French language? You shouldn’t! With over 10,000 words derived from French, native English speakers already have plenty of French vocabulary in their arsenal. Contact us today to sign up for one-to-one lessons with a native-speaking French instructor.