Chic! The 10 most-loved French words used in English

"French stick" doesn't quite cut it when it comes to the famous Gallic loaf

The French words that Brits and other English-speakers love to use was the subject of an online article in newspaper Le Figaro yesterday, with “chic”, “déjà-vu” and “je ne sais quoi”, hitting the top spots.

The piece listed 10 words from the language of Molière that English-speakers regularly use in their original French form, without being translated.

 

They were:

Je ne sais quoi

Defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “a quality that cannot be described or named easily”, English speakers often opt for this quirky phrase when describing something that has an indefinable flair. According to Le Figaro, it dates to 1531, and comes from the old French “je ne scay quoy”.

Déjà-vu

Literally meaning “already seen” in French, this phrase is used by English-speakers to explain the peculiar phenomenon of feeling like you have lived through an exact situation or experience already.

Rendez-vous

While, in English, this phrase can sometimes have romantic connotations, in French it tends to mean a simple appointment or meeting, without any extra meaning.

Fiancé(e)

While English-speakers also use the words “engaged” and “betrothed”, this is the most common word taken to describe the person you plan to marry. It is said to come from the verb “fier” (to trust, not to be confused with "fier" as the adjective for "proud"), plus the suffix “ance”.

An old definition described it as “the state of a trusting soul”.

Brunette

As in French, this word denotes a girl or woman with brown hair. However, in English, it tends to describe particularly dark hair; while in French, it may be more likely to be used for light brown locks.

(Tesa Photography / Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons)

"Bon appétit" is used in English to mean "have a good meal"

Bon appétit

The fame of French food transcends the plate: this handy expression is still used often in English to mean “I hope that you enjoy your meal”. According to Le Figaro, the expression dates back to the Middle Ages.

Baguette (and Croissant)

Although some English-language shops may label the long loaf as a “French stick”, it is much more likely to be known as a simple “baguette”, while its buttery cousin is only ever called a “croissant”, even in English, and acknowledged as a French breakfast food by the OED.

But while it sounds quintessentially French today, the word “baguette” actually comes from the Italian “bacchetta”, meaning “small stick”.

Chic

This word describes a certain fashionable elegance, and is pronounced “sheek” in English, with a longer “e” sound than the “i” in French. Yet, this apparently very Gallic word actually comes from the German “shick”, which means “in a good and convenient manner” and “convenient knowledge”.

Boutique

This simple word for “shop” in French would be more likely to denote a high-end fashion or beauty shop in English. Similarly, when used as an English adjective, it often describes something small but high-end, highly-designed, fashionable and luxurious - such as a “boutique hotel”.

Avant-garde

This French phrase is still used in English to describe “new and experimental ideas and methods in art, music or literature” (according to the OED) and usually points to something “ahead of its time”. In French, the word was first used to describe the leading part of “an army or a flotilla”.

While there are countless linguistic links between English and French, other common French words used in their original form in English include café, restaurant, apéritif, hors d’oeuvre, reconnaissance, entrepreneur, petite, joie de vivre, bon viveur, and en route.

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