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Eight English words that you may not have realised come from French

From ambulance to coupon, we look at the English words that have their origins in French

So many English words have their origins in French Pic: Natasha Jovanovic / Shutterstock

Thousands of English words are thought to stem from French, largely due to the 11th-century Norman Conquest. 

While some words or phrases have been directly borrowed from French - think déjà-vu, blasé, tête-à-tête - others are more subtle.

1. RSVP 

RSVP has kept its French origins and stands for Respondez-vous s’il vous plait

2. Restaurant 

Restaurant comes from the French word restaurer which means ‘to restore’ while se restaurer is a reflexive verb that translates as to 'restore yourself' by having something to eat.

Read also: Why do some French house numbers have ‘bis’ after them?

3. Sabotage 

There are two theories about where sabotage came from, which are likely linked.

The most simple suggestion is that it comes from the French saboteur, which originally meant to ‘botch’ something. 

However, the more interesting theory is that sabotage comes from the sabot which was a word for a wooden clog worn by Breton peasants. 

The word derives from the realisation during the 19th century and the period of industrialisation that if these wooden shoes were thrown into the machinery it would stop working - a ‘sabotage’. 

4. Queue 

Queue means tail in French. Anglophone’s meaning for the word comes from the fact that when people stand in a line they look like a long winding tail or a ‘queue’.

Read also: How ancient French dialects have impacted today’s English 

5. Sport 

Although both the French and English use ‘sport’, it was the English that borrowed from the French in the first place. 

It came from the old French word of desporter which was used to describe something you took pleasure in doing.

In English, this became ‘disport’ and then ‘sport’ which the French then borrowed back from English in the early 1800s.

6. Dentist 

You may never have stopped to ponder the origins of dentist. But, when you think about it, the word’s roots in French are clear. 

Dent’ in French means ‘tooth’ making a ‘dentist’ someone who treats teeth. 

7. Coupon

Couper in French means ‘to cut’ or ‘to cut off’. 

Coupons literally translate as a piece that has been cut off, which explains our use of the word - a token for a bit of the price to be cut off. 

8. Ambulance 

Ambulance comes from the old French term hôpital ambulant, which translates as ‘walking hospital’.

Ambulant can be translated as ‘walking’ or ‘mobile’ among other meanings. 

Originally the term hôpital ambulant was used by the army to describe the moveable hospitals that could be put up and taken down as and when required. 

Read also

10 Breton phrases to take with you to Brittany

10 words or phrases to introduce Canadian French

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