15 English Words We Borrowed From The French!
Be it a stroll on the Champs Elysees or marveling at the Eiffel tower, there is no doubt we have always been captivated by the French way of life. We can thank them for French toast (“le pain perdu”), for the French braid, for the classy French manicure, and most of all for French fries! But what we don’t realize is that there are actually a lot of English words we owe to the French, at least 30% of them to be exact! ;) Mon Dieu!
Here’s a look at some of them:
Etiquette: This is an obvious one! We have Louis XIV of Versailles to thank for this word which originally referred to tiny cards that the courtiers would carry and jot down little notes on to remember the rules of court.
Coupon: It comes as no surprise that the French word “couper” is the origin of this word which means “to cut” hence the word “coupon” standing for “piece cut off” which is why we use it to get discounts.
Mortgage: this word comes from a French phrase meaning a "death contract" or “death pledge”. Interesting…
Silhouette: a silhouette, which is an object’s outline used to be a very popular form because they were cheaper to make than painted portraits. How did this word originate? Thanks to Etienne de Silhouette, the French finance minister during the Seven Years War. To raise funds, he imposed taxes on luxury items at a time when the wealthy were not taxed. They mocked him and started referring to anything cheap as a Silhouette, or “à la Silhouette”. So when profile portraits became a trend, people called them “silhouettes” aka cheap.
Sabotage: The weird thing about this word is that it comes from the French word “sabot”, a simple wooden shoe that was common among French and Breton peasants who had a penchant for damaging machinery by throwing shoes into it. It was a protest against industrialization with the sole aim of stopping factories.
Denim actually started off as “de Nĭmes” as in “of Nĭmes”, the city in which it was manufactured. Similarly, “Jeans” came from the French word, “Gênes” representing the Italian city of Genoa since they were worn mostly by Genoese navy sailors.
RSVP: S.V.Pis actually “Répondez S’il Vous Plaît”
Muse: In Greek legend, the nine Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, but this word lends its origin to old French in fact, from the word “muser” (to contemplate or waste time). From this we get “museum”, “music”, “mosaic”, “amuse”, and “bemuse”; all related to the Muses.
Affair came from the old french word “afere” or “afaire” that eventually became the French phrase “à faire” meaning “to do”. Was used in a general sense to describe "what an individual has to do" or "elusive actions" (in romance, war, etc.) or, in the case of the french “affaire de coeur”, which signifies a love or passionate experience.
Curfew: In medieval times, the bell would ring at a fixed hour at night to beckon everyone inside, put out any fires, and get ready for bed. It combines the French words "couvrir" (to cover) and “feu” (fire), literally "cover fire" since the practice was to prevent any potential forest fires from breaking out. Hence the old french word “cuevrefeu” became “couvre-feu” and in English, “Curfew”.
Avant-garde: In French, the exact translation is "advance guard" or ‘front guard”, (“avant”+ “guard”), and was used in a military, artistic, and political sense. How did it originate? From army forces who would be placed almost a day's march to the front, right behind the cavalry screen. They were the ones who facilitated the job of the main army by engaging the enemies wherever they may be.
Camouflage: This term comes from the words “camoufler” (to disguise) or “camouflet” (a trace of smoke blown in someone’s face). “camoufler” was often a term used by thieves who looked for ways to disguise themselves. Then during World War I, Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola adopted this practice when he used artists referred to as “camoufleurs” to produce gun covers and observation posts in trees.
Envoy: In English, an envoy refers to a messenger or representative; no surprise there since the French “envoyé”, “envoyer" stand for “to send", and “en voie” for “on the way.”
Dentist: Long story short, “tooth" in French is called “dent”, hence the word “dentist” since it stands for an individual who manages your pearly whites. Sounds better than “toother” wouldn’t you say?!
Bikini: In 1946, French car engineer Louis Réard invented a two-piece bathing suit, very daring for that time, and named it the “Bikini”, after the US nuclear tests at the Bikini atoll, an island in the South Pacific. Very convenient as they both caused quite the explosion! ;)