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Bacon, money, proud...9 words English took from French

Any English speaker who has tried to learn French will know that it is not always easy to master, but a new book has shown that some surprising words are more similar than you might think.

A new book by author Henriette Walter, Honni soit qui mal y pense: l’incroyable histoire d’amour entre le français et l’anglais (Robert Laffont) - which has been excerpted in a nine-point list by French newspaper Le Figaro - details the origins of nine English words directly linked to French.

Some, such as “affair”, seem fairly obvious; while others, such as “proud” and “bacon” perhaps less so.

As the book says: “When you know that two thirds of English vocabulary comes from French or Latin, that ‘mushroom’ in English comes from ‘mousseron’ in French, and that the French ‘bol’ is the origin of the English ‘bowl’ pronounced in a French way in English, then we understand that between these two languages is a real [love story] that started several centuries ago...and that continues to last.”


The direct translation in French is “fier”, but “proud” actually comes from the old French “prud”, which became “preux” (valuable or precious), and was a synonym for “brave”. From the language of chivalry and knights, and defined as “a hero proving his chivalry, especially bravery”, according to le Trésor de la langue française informatisé (TLFI).


Comes from the old French word “bacon”, meaning “pork meat, and salted lard flesh”. Was once used in common French, and was perhaps even taken from old German, which has the word “bacho” for “ham”.


Became part of the English language during the “middle English” stage, says Ms Walter, “which lasts approximately from the Norman conquest to the end of the 15th century”. This period also saw English adopt the words forest ("fôret"), veil ("voile"), and prey ("proie"). The word “leisure” comes from “loisir”.


Comes from “pâtisserie”, from the verb “pâtisser” and “travailler la pâte” (work the dough). Comes from the old French word “pastitz”, which disappeared around the 13th century, but that came from the popular Latin “pasticium”. Also seen in the words “pasta” and “pâte”.


Comes from the French word “forain”, meaning: “someone who is from the outside”. From the Latin vernacular “foranus”, from “foris (outside)”, meaning someone who has gone outside, or from outside (of a stone wall).

The English word "pastry" comes from the French "pâtisserie”, “pâtisser", the old French "pastitz" and the Latin "pasticium" (Photo: Pixabay / Pixabay License)


To bargain

Originally from the 14th century, from the old French “bargaigner”, meaning “to hesitate”. There is also an old French verb, “barguigner”, which means to “barter more or less for a while”. It could also mean “to hesitate, to not decide, to take time to act”.

Also from the old vernacular French “borganjan”, which came from a mix of the old French “borgen”, meaning to borrow or lend, and the old French “waidanjan”, meaning “to win”.


Often thought of as a “false friend” in English, as “monnaie” in French means “loose change” or coins, (whereas the French “argent” actually means “money” as said in English). Yet, the French word “monnaie” is still at the origin of the English, from the latin “Moneta”, the surname of the Roman goddess Junon.


This word can mean the same thing in French and English, to denote “a situation” or an event. Yet, in English, the word often takes on a deeper meaning: that of a “love affair”, especially one that is perhaps illicit, extramarital, or short-lived.

The result of two words: the preposition “à”, and the verb “faire”, meaning what there is “to do”. This connection was established by the 15th century.


From the English word “kerchief”, which came in around the 13th century, meaning “a scarf on the head”. The word “kerchief” is a mispronunciation of the French phrase “couvre chief”.

Handkerchief, meaning a piece of fabric used by the hands as a tissue for the face, was one of many French words that entered into English domestic parlance, such as “curtain”, from the French “cortine”, which was an old word for curtains drawn around a bed.

“Cushion” comes from “coussin”, which used to be written as “coissin”; while “towel” comes from the French “toaille”, which has a similar meaning (although the French word for "towel" is "serviette" (or "serviette de bain"), which when used in English can sometimes also mean an alternative word for "napkin").

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