50 French Words And Expressions Used In America

Cul de SacI have to say that during the first years of my living in the US, at times, I was very surprised when I heard a French expression or word in the middle of an English sentence.  From time to time I still hear new ones on TV during interviews or documentaries.  It always amuses me.

English Words in the French Language

What’s interesting is that it’s the same thing the other way around.  There is actually a French Academy which job is to keep the French language clean of foreign words.  Part of the their job is to control and limit the implementation of English words in the French language.

The reason for this is that if not controlled there would be an exaggerating number of English terms added that would tend destroy the French language.

In the 1970’s they’ve tried to eliminate the use of the expression “weekend” in the French language, but to no avail.  As a matter of fact, I bet that some younger French folks have no idea of what the equivalent expression for weekend is in French.  That’s why they’re trying to protect the French language.

A language is alive because of the people speaking it, but unfortunately, a language can also die, so they are people paid to safeguard such languages.

Words such as weekend, parking, stop, shopping, and marketing, for example, have been forever added to the French vocabulary.

Interestingly, however, the English language has probably just as many French words and expression that are used here and there.  Here are 50 words and expression that are used in America (there are more).

50 French Words and Expressions you are Using in America when Speaking English

1)      A la carte

This means ordering individual dishes from a menu in a restaurant.

2)      A propos

On the subject of, about something, or even by the way. Use in common conversation in English.

3)      Au contraire

On the other hand.  Now when I heard that one for the first time I just laugh.

4)      Au pair

Foreign students staying in a local family to learn a foreign language. French term used in the US.

5)      Bon appétit

This is what we say before starting a meal to the people sitting at the table. Literally “good appetite”.  Since there is no such exact equivalent in English, you’ve just adopted the French term.

6)      Bon voyage

Have a good trip. Now why this one?  It beats me.

7)      Bourgeois

Originally meant member of the bourgeoisie social class.  Today tends to be derogatory, meaning people of conventional upper class attitude.

8)      Bouquet

A flower bunch

9)      Brunette

The slang word to describe a woman with brown hair.  Now, did you notice, I said “slang”.  That’s right, the real word for a brown hair woman is brune.  So you English speaking people adopted the french slang term to describe a brown hair woman.  How funny is that?

10)   Café

Shops where you can drink at a table of at the counter with or without a small meal.

11)   Carte blanche

Literally « white card »  meaning to go ahead, permission given, authorization.

12)   C’est la vie

Such as life.  English speaking people love to use that one.

13)   Chauffeur

The person driving you around. English term being “driver”, but you love to use chauffeur instead. Sounds more classy I guess.

14)   Cinéma

The place where you can go watch movies, as well as the movie industry.  Used on American TV a lot.

15)   Cliché

Stereotype.  Probably one of the French word most used in English.

16)   Concierge

Receptionist in a hotel or residence.

17)   Coup de grâce

The final blow to kill.  You love that one to.

18)   Croissant

French flacky pastry with a croissant shape.

19)   Cul-de-sac

Literally, the bottom of a bad. A road or street with no way out. I love to see that sign on the American roads. In France we have the road sign “stop”.

20)   Décor

The decoration, design.

21)   Encore

More. There’s a TV channel called Encore.

22)   En route

On the way.  Another on that must sound better to you they just one the way.

23)   Entrée

Entrance or/and the first course of a meal.

24)   Entrepreneur

A person who starts and operate enterprises and businesses.

25)   Escargots

Snails. American rather eat escargots than snails. Hilarious!

26)   Excusez-moi

Excuse me. I have a friend who always says it in French.

27)   Faux pas

Mistake, violation of the rules. Sand way better in French, right?

28)   Femme fatale

Attractive woman who seduces.

29)   Fiancé/ Fiancé

The man or woman you are engaged to

30)   Je ne sais quoi

“I don’t know what” When you can’t discern the reason why something is different. “it has a taste of je ne sais quoi.”

31)   Genre

The kind of…

32)   Joie de vivre

The happiness of life or happiness of living.

33)   Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday. A French holiday of the beginning of the year.

34)   Nouveau

New

35)   Nouveau riches

New rich. People who have recently become rich.

36)   Papier-mâché

Craft paper. Literally « chewed paper ».

37)   Petit

Small and/or short.

38)   Potpourri

Mixture of flower petals in a pot.

39)   Rapport

To be in sync with someone. Getting along well with someone.

40)   Renaissance

Cultural French movement between the 14th and 17th century.

41)   Résumé

The sum up of something.  However in French this is not the word used for your resume to find a job, which is call a Curriculum Vitae, or CV.

42)   Rôle

The function of her person.

43)   Sabotage

Came from a very old story of unhappy workers who destroyed  machinery by tossing their sabots (wooden shoes) in it.  The termed stuck when someone is trying to maliciously destroy or damage something. All the way to America.

44)   Sans

Without. This was a surprise to me the first time I saw it written in the middle of  and English article.

45)   Savant

Genius, someone with supirior knowledge

46)   Savoir-faire

Good manners

47)   Soirée

Evening

48)   Touché

To touch in both literal and figurative senses.

49)   Vinaigrette

French salad dressing made with mustard and vinegar.

50)   Voila

Here, or here you are.

There you have it. The some of the 50 French words and expression used most in America.

Did you know them all?

 

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14 Comments

  • Shalu Sharma says:

    Very interesting words and I am familiar with most of them but not all. Most of these words are used extensively in India too being a country where English is spoken widely.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Shalu,

      That’s interesting to know that those words are used in other countries that speak English. To me it’s interesting that so many French words are used in English when none from the German language and very few from Spanish or Italian are used at all. Why French? I wonder…

      Thanks for coming and have a fantastic week!

  • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

    OMG really Sylviane? You’re right I didn’t know that but the most surprising is brunette. Should I be insulted then because that’s all I’ve ever been called since I do have natural brown hair. Huh, making me really think now. Yikes!

    ~Adrienne
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Adrienne, LOL!

      It’s not a bad slang word, but a sweet one though. We use that for a little girl that would have brown hair. We might call her a brunette (meaning a little brown hair female), but yes, it’s still not a “real” word, so let me tell you how shocked I WAS when I realized that America uses this word as a “normal” word all the time to describe a brown hair woman. That’s nuts 🙂

      Who knows who brought that up!!! What’s funny is that most French people who have not been in the US long enough and those who don’t speak English might never know that.

      Thanks for coming, Adrienne.

  • Anushha says:

    I loved this word list. I was aware with a lot of words, but there were few of them which made me learn something new. Thanks a lot for sharing some new fascinating words.

  • marytlou says:

    These are so commonly used words in everyday English language that we have forgotten that these words are actually French. Take the word Resume for instance. However, this is an interesting collection of words. Nice share.

  • Sue PriceTwitter: suejprice says:

    Hi Sylviane

    I love it. Yes I know all those French word and some are used so much I even do not think they are French.

    We saw a French movie on Wednesday evening. Called Haute Cuisine. Have you seen it? It is a woman who ran the private kitchen of the President (Jean d’Ormesson). Of course it was subtitled and we saw mainly food being prepared. Gorgeous French food. It was a lovely movie and I was surprised how much I understood without reading. If you asked me to say much I cannot remember though.

    Back to your post. Entrepreneur I thought the Americans made that one and I have never thought of it as French.

    Thanks for an entertaining post.

    Voila!

    Sue
    Sue Price invites you to read..What Is A Blog?My Profile

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Sue,

      So you do understand some French? That’s great! No, I’ve never seen that movie, but will look it up.

      Yes, entrepreneur is French, thus the spelling. I think that if it was English it would be “entreprenor”, right? In any case, yes, I did my research and it is.
      I’m sure you know lots of those words as they are probably used in Australia as well.

      Have a great weekend, Sue.

  • MayuraTwitter: MayuraDeSilva says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    You know that I’m not a regular reader here but your post title definitely drag me all the way to here 😉

    I know how surprised someone can be when they hear a foreigner use words from their native language 🙂 Well, I knew 20 words out of 50.

    Not only from Americans but also I’ve heard some of the french words among British folks too 🙂 Even some terms are generalized enough and used in many parts of the World. I had no idea that the general terms such as Entrepreneur, Cinema, Bouquet, Cafe and such were French words either. Always thought they were just English terms. But if we observe pronunciations, we can find a clue, right?

    I really enjoyed it and thanks for sharing such an interesting information Sylviane 🙂

    You have a wonderful weekend ahead!

    Cheers…
    Mayura invites you to read..Search Engine Optimization Basics for BloggersMy Profile

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Ah, Mayura, yes, what a surprise to find you here!

      I know that even some American people don’t know that some of those words are French, because they have been used in English for so long, but you’re very smart, just listen to them and you might have a clue, right?

      Sue was telling me that she didn’t know about “entrepreneur” being French, but look at the spelling, and you might have a clue, if it were an English word it would be “entreprenor”, as a word ending in “eur” is certainly not typical of the English language.

      When I first saw you in the comment I thought you commented on my parents’story post, but that’s nice seeing you here.

      Thanks for all you’ve done for those, blogs 🙂 and have a fantastic weekend.

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  • Jeremy Norton says:

    I remember these words are giving me a hard time in spelling when I was studying. They really are hard to spell.

  • weekenda2 says:

    ahaha, I’m French and I ususally watch TV american series in English and was amazed by the number of French words you use. Thanks for the list – will share it with my collegues in Paris!

  • Rachel says:

    Loved this post….I knew all the words, but then I took French for years in school. Merci, Silviane

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