Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Français en Anglais

Our language is a hodge-podge of words with origins from all over the globe. And, many of those words have been given a little tweak so they no longer sound exactly the way citizens from the "homeland" once pronounced it. Not until the last few years, however, did I realized how many French terms entered the scene much later and which haven't been tweaked at all (or only subtly.)

When I use these types of terms, sometimes I get the strangest looks. (Am I pronouncing the words and phrases correctly? Did I not use the term in the way it is intended? Or, do they just not know what that means?) But, I'm used to receiving strange looks. So, the worst part for me is when *I* hear one or read one in a book and don't have a clue what it means. So, I thought I'd start a list of some (from the most common to the rarely used), and I would like your help - not only in helping me compile the list, but also in correcting my mistakes or providing better definitions. Pronunciations would also be of help. Here are a few that have come to mind or come up in conversation over the past few days.

à la carte (ah luh kahrt)
literally, on the or from the card (or menu)
with a separate price for each dish offered on the menu rather than a list of preset multi-course meals at fixed prices

à la mode (ah luh mohd)
literally, of the fashion
in or according to the fashion; served with ice cream

apéritif (ah-per-i-teef)
a small drink of alcoholic liquor (often wine) taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal

carte blanche (kart blahNsh)
literally, blank or white card;
full permission; unconditional authority

crudité (kroo-di-tey)
literally, rawness or raw vegetable
an appetizer consisting of a variety of raw vegetables, usually cut into strips or bite-size pieces, and served with a dip

décolletage (dey-kol-tahzh or dey-kol-uh-tahzh) or
décolleté (dey-kol-tey, dey-kol-uh-tey)
Leaving the neck and shoulders uncovered; cut low in the neck, or low-necked, as a dress;

faux pas (foh pah)
literally, false step
a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion; (It is my understanding this is rarely used in France anymore... instead using the word gaffe)

hors d’oeuvres (or duhrv)
literally, outside of or before the work
appetizer; food served before the main course of a meal, equivalent of Italian atipasto

papier-mâché (pa-pyey-mah-shey) or
paper-mâché (pey-per-muh-shey)
literally, chewed paper
combination of paper and glue, usually applied to an object when wet, forming a strong, hard substance when dry, often painted or varnished; also meaning false, pretentious or easily destroyed

pièce de résistance (pyes duh rey-zee-stahns)
literally, piece with staying power or longevity
the most noteworthy or prized feature, aspect, event, article, etc., of a series or group; special item or attraction; outstanding accomplishment; principle dish of a meal

sangfroid (sahn-frwa)
literally, cold blood
Coolness and composure, especially in trying circumstances

Some of these are extremely common. However, I am trying to better know and use some of the less common that pop up from time to time. I'll be trying to keep track of them as I think of them or hear them, but can you contribute to the cause?


Ceridwen said...

Did you know that Grandma was a french teacher? And did you know that when we say that we have beaucoups (pronounced boo- coos) to do it is fron the french word beaucoup which means a lot.

Elizabeth said...

I think the actual pronounciation is boe-coo. No offense, please, I was a french student for several years...

fiancé(é) - that's french obviously, betrothed

(rare) richesse (used in a play once) means wealthy, treasures. ree-sh-esse

just for fun, although not used in America: trombone:paperclip,
parapluie: umbrella
the American Savvy comes from the french verb Savoir which means to know
chic - trendy (shee-k)
I'll keep thinking...

mikee said...

coup de grâce
The expression coup de grâce (pronounced /ku de'gra/) (French: "blow of mercy") means a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature. It is often used figuratively to describe the last of a series of events which brings about the end of some entity; for example: "The business had been ailing for years; the coup de grâce which brought it to its knees was the sudden jump in oil prices." (Wikipedia)

But here's an interesting tidbit (also from Wikipedia): The French pronunciation of the phrase is [ku də gras], but English speakers sometimes pronounce it as [ku də ɡɹa]. Not pronouncing the final "c" is an example of a hyperforeignism: in French, this is the pronunciation of coup de gras ("blow of fat").

je ne sais quoi (pronounced: zhuh-nuh-say-kwä)
A personal favorite of mine. Literally translated means "I don't know what" and usually refers to a mysterious essence or quality. "She was radiant, beautiful, with a certain je ne sais quoi."

Siren said...

One of my personal favorites is 'Je ne pas mon milieu.'

Although it's not nearly as common as the rest of the phrases you've got here, I like it a lot and do use it because there's no English equivalent that conveys that particular sentiment (roughly - that's not my area of expertise) as gracefully.

(It's been a few years since I last took French, I'm wondering if I even spelled that right)

strem said...

Here are a few more that I've seen in my readings over the last few weeks. Just will take me a little while to remember most of them.

cap-à-pie (kap-uh-pee')
or sometimes cap-à-pied
From head to foot

cause célèbre (kawz suh-leb'-ruh)
An issue arousing widespread controversy or heated public debate

dénouement (dey-noo-mahN')
the end result of a intricate plot, as in a drama or novel

esprit de corps (e-spree' duh kawr')
literally, spirit of the body (of troops)
a feeling of solidarity among members of a group; morale

laissez-faire (les-ey-fair)
literally, allow to do
noninterference in the affairs of others

raison d'être (rey-zohn' de'-truh)
literally, reason for being
justification for existence

These are the ones I knew... but for the life of me, I can't remember the ones I didn't know. I'll keep searching.

strem said...

mikee: Je ne sais quoi is one of my favorites too. Just has that ring to it!

siren: You did a great job of spelling the phrase, I think. I'll have to work that into a conversation soon. :)

strem said...

A few more that we may often see that came to mind throughout the day.

trompe l'oeil (trawmp ley or trawmp loi)
literally, deceive the eye
art which uses perspective to trick the eye into thinking it is real

soupçon (soop-sawn)
literally, suspicion
a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor

fait accompli (fe ta-kawn-plee')
literally, done deed
an accomplished, presumably irreversible deed or fact

raconteur (rak-uhn-tur')
a person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly

Does my head hurt? Oui, oui.

strem said...

If you are still thinking about or searching for these items, here are two lists that might help you in your quest: the Wikipedia List of French Phrases Used By English Speakers and (kudos to my friend Laurie for the tip) the About.com French Words and Expressions in English page.

strem said...

After reviewing the two lists posted above in detail, I finally found two of the phrases that I had been trying to remember this week.

mot juste (moh zhyst')
literally, right word
exactly the right word or expression

roman-fleuve (raw-mahn-floev')
literally, novel river
A long, multi-volume novel which presents the history of several generations of a family or community (equivalent of saga)

And, now I've learned a whole bunch more! :)

mikee said...

Some common terms we've overlooked thus far:

soup du jour

strem said...

mikee: Are you an attaché or do you own an attaché? Maybe neither.

Sandy-san said...

I'm a German. What do I know?

Ach du lieber...

Sandy-san said...

Okay, I thought of one:

Vis-à-vis (it literally means face to face) It describes things which are related to one another.