Phrase Friday: Non-English Phrases, Part 2 – French

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, Tower, Landmark, Europe
Photo via Pixabay

Also read last week’s post on Latin phrases.

For some reason, English speakers love French. Perhaps it’s simply because it is a pretty language. I think we have co-opted French phrases for a variety of reasons, though. French culture has been exported throughout Europe and even America over the centuries, in the forms of opera, ballet, music, wine, and more. Many of the phrases in the list below were popularized among English speakers this way.

Avant-garde – cutting edge; new; experimental; innovative. Usually refers to something in the arts (for example, “Shakespeare’s play Othello was avant-garde for its time”)

Bon voyage:  “have a pleasant trip” – an expression of goodwill at the start of a trip or new venture

Carte blanche: “blank paper” – unrestricted power to act at one’s own discretion; complete freedom

Cause célèbre: “famous case” – any incident that attracts great public attention

C’est la vie:  “that’s life” – such is life

Déjà vu:  “already seen” – the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time

Du jour: “of the day” – 1.as prepared on the particular day; of the kind being served today (a restaurant’s “soup du jour”); 2. fashionable; current

Enfant terrible:  “terrible child” – usually refers to a famous or successful person who likes to shock people; a person whose unconventional behavior embarrasses others

Esprit de corps – a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group; team spirit

Faux pas:  “false step” – a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion

Femme fatale:  “fatal woman” – an irresistibly attractive woman, especially one who leads men into difficult or dangerous situations; a siren

Haute couture: “high dressmaking” – high fashion; clothing created by high fashion designers

Je ne sais quoi: “I know not what” – an indescribable or inexpressible thing

Joie de vivre: “joy of life” – a keen enjoyment of living; exuberance; lightheartedness

Menage-a-trois: “household of three” – a love triangle

Nom de plume: pen name; pseudonym

Piece de resistance: “means of resistance” – usually in reference to creative work or food – the most important or remarkable feature (for example, “the piece de resistance of the show was the artist’s 20 foot tall sculpture of a fire hydrant”)

RSVP: stands for “Respondez s’il vous plait”, meaning “please answer” – a reply to an invitation

Savoir faire: ability to say and do the right thing at the right time; tact; poise; sophistication

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