I 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. This said, most languages are bound to be mixed with some foreign words that have become part of the language somehow.
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. Below are 50 words and expression that are used in America (there are more).
This said, interestingly, it’s by learning another language that you are going to discover things about your own that you didn’t know or expected. This could be a great reason to learn French, isn’t it?
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.
Originally meant member of the bourgeoisie social class. Today tends to be derogatory, meaning people of conventional upper class attitude.
A flower bunch
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?
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.
The person driving you around. English term being “driver”, but you love to use chauffeur instead. Sounds more classy I guess.
The place where you can go watch movies, as well as the movie industry. Used on American TV a lot.
Stereotype. Probably one of the French word most used in English.
Receptionist in a hotel or residence.
17) Coup de grâce
The final blow to kill. You love that one to.
French flacky pastry with a croissant shape.
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”.
The decoration, design.
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.
Entrance or/and the first course of a meal.
A person who starts and operate enterprises and businesses.
Snails. American rather eat escargots than snails. Hilarious!
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.”
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.
35) Nouveau riches
New rich. People who have recently become rich.
Craft paper. Literally « chewed paper ».
Small and/or short.
Mixture of flower petals in a pot.
To be in sync with someone. Getting along well with someone.
Cultural French movement between the 14th and 17th century.
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.
The function of her person.
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.
Without. This was a surprise to me the first time I saw it written in the middle of and English article.
Genius, someone with supirior knowledge
To touch in both literal and figurative senses.
French salad dressing made with mustard and vinegar.
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?