7 posh French phrases that are now popular in English

8 Oct

Author: Pratibha Alagh

What if we told you English belongs to same language family as Dutch – Germanic, but that it has more features in common with French, an offspring of the Romance languages?

7 posh French phrases that are now popular in English

Strange, right? But, when it comes to languages, it’s not all about the roots. What is at play is another very common phenomenon that linguists call borrowing. For English, it started with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. French became the language of the court, the churches, and the upper classes for three centuries, while English was spoken only by commoners. Even when poets like Chaucer chose to make English the language of poetry, they couldn’t rid it of the French influence. So, starting in the medieval ages, about 10,000 French words and phrases have made their way into English, and most of them stayed put.

Here is BrainGain Magazine’s list of 7:

  • Vis-à-vis

    Pronounced ‘vee-zah-vee’, this is a mid-18th century French phrase, which means ‘face to face.’ In the English context, it means ‘with regard to’ or ‘concerning’. For example, I asked the President about the relation of the policy vis-à-vis people’s requirements.

  • Liaison

    Pronounced ‘li-a-zhun’, the word comes from French ‘lier’ meaning ‘to bind’ or ‘to tie.’ It is commonly used in English to describe ‘communication or establishing and maintaining mutual understanding and cooperation (as between parts of an armed force).’[1] For example, we will have to liaison with the marketing department to initiate the campaign.

  • Par excellence

    An Old French term meaning ‘by excellence,’ this is pronounced just as it is spelt – ‘paar-excel-lahn (suh).’ It is used in English to mean best of the best, for example, Gordon Ramsay is a chef par excellence.

  • Déjà vu

    This French phrase means already seen. It is pronounced as ‘day-zha-voo’. In English, it is used to express a feeling that you have experienced before even if you encounter it for the first time. For example, on looking at the Angkor Vat, she felt a sense of déjà vu.

  • Faux pas

    Pronounced ‘foh pah’, the French phrase means false step. English uses it in a social context to indicate an embarrassing action or mistake. For example, Rick’s excessive drinking at the office party was quite the faux pas.

  • Crème de la crème

    Pronounced ‘krem duh la krem’, the phrase comes from the French court meaning the best of the best. Synonymous with ‘par excellence’, it is used to refer to the people from the top tiers of society. For example, the event was attended by the crème de la crème of the community.

  • Cliché

    A mid-19th century term, it comes from the French term ‘clicher’ meaning ‘to stereotype.’ In English, phrases that are overused and are uninteresting mean cliché, pronounced as ‘klee-shay’. The French poet Gerard de Nerval allegedly said that first person who called a woman a rose was a poet, the second was an imbecile.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liaison

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