French phrases commonly used in the English language:

à bouche ouverte: with open mouth; eagerly; uncritically

à compte: on account

à droit/gauche: to or on the right/left hand

à la belle étoile: under the beautiful star; in the open air at night

à la français: in the French style

ami de cour: court friend; insincere friend

ancienne noblesse: old-time nobility; the French nobility before the Revolution of 1789

à peu près: nearly; approximately

à pied: on foot

au contraire: on the contrary

au pays des aveugles les borgnes sont rois: in the country of the blind, the one-eyed men are kings

au reste: for the rest; besides

aux armes: to arms

a votre santé: to your health (used as a toast)

bon jour: good day

cherchez les femmes: look forthe women

cheval de bataille: war-horse; argument constantly relied on; favorite subject

d'accord: in accord; agree

de mal en pis: from bad to worse

en ami: as a friend

en effet: in fact; indeed

enfin: in conclusion; in a word

To be continued...

While the previous writeup lists phrases that still are clearly French, I'll speak about English words that derive from French words. According to Howard Woods in Syllable Stress & Unstress (1978), this is the case of 28.3% of all English words, although these words only account for 15.2% of word usage in a daily newspaper.

The influence of the French language on the English language began when William the Conqueror seized England in 1066. At the beginning, the Normans only used French to govern England but, after France seized Normandy, the use of French gradually declined. Major social changes caused by the Black Death, in the 1340s, increased the influence of the lower or middle classes, who spoke English. In 1362, the parliament adopted English as its official language and everybody spoke English by the end of the century.

In the meantime, no less than 10000 French words had entered the English language, especially in domains controlled by the Normans:

The introduction of French words was later blamed on Chaucer (second half of the 14th century), but maybe the Romance words he used had already been introduced in oral language or in lost writings. Besides, maybe the old Germanic words were already dying before the new words were adopted.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, linguistic nationalism rose in England and the influence of French was considered by some people as a tragedy for the purity of the language. The mathematician and grammarian John Wallis claimed that any influence of Latin ought to be removed from the vocabulary as well as from the grammar. As an aside, he explained his theories in the first systematic English grammar, which he wrote... in Latin (Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae, 1653).

Nowadays, although English has become the de facto world language, a few French words still continue to penetrate the English language. It seems that, today as in the Middle Ages, French words are used by the elite and are seen as snob before they become mainstream words (or disappear). Gone Jackal tells me that around 1000 French words are used that way in modern English. Because I'm French, I cannot write much about this subject. I can only say that I am filled with bewilderment when I read about the opportunities for double-entendre and sexually-risqué comment in a E2 writeup.


Many sources. The most interesting and complete was http://www.uwm.edu/People/aleinss/mideng.pdf

Here are a few more phrases taken from French and commonly used in the English language:

  • Coup d'état: military overthrow of a government in power
  • Rendez-vous: a meeting, an appointment
  • RSVP (which stands for Répondez s'il vous plaît): Please respond, especially used with formal invitations
  • Noblesse oblige: the obligation of people of high social position to behave nobly towards others
  • Ménage à trois: If you don't know, I suggest you do some random web searches and follow any lewd link you can find; you'll stumble across it at some point
  • Milieu: environment
  • Voila: an exclamation meaning "Here you go!" or "There you have it!"
  • Voulez vous couchez avec moi?: Would you like to sleep with me? (Made famous by some god-awful rap song).

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