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Top 15 French words reinvented in English

Joshua Melvin · 29 Sep 2014, 16:27

Published: 29 Sep 2014 16:27 GMT+02:00

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If you have ever heard a French person talk about going 'footing' and been left completely baffled, you may be interested to know Anglos are guilty of the same creativity with French words.

With roughly one-third of the English language being derived from French, according to some estimates, it's no surprise that there are a few words that didn't exactly remain true to their original form.

But there are also a few that Anglos seem to have just created themselves from the language of Molière.

So to make your life easier The Local has collected some of the most common ones:

Negligee: You might get some funny looks if you asked for one of these at a French lingerie boutique, as it literally means ‘neglected’ and not a light or even see-through, sexy dressing gown.

Premiere/Debut: In English "premiere" refers to the opening of a show or movie, but be careful about using it in French as it just means the "start" or "first". Also the English use "debut" as to refer to the first public performance or appearance or a person or group, as in "Zidane made his debut for France on Saturday"... But in French the word "debut" just means the beginning.

À la mode: In French "À la mode" means fashionable, which is how it is generally used in English in the UK, but sit down at a restaurant in the United States and order "pie à la mode" and you'll get a slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on top. 

Bête noire: In the UK bête noire has a sporting connotation and refers to a rival who has a habit of beating them, as in Federer is Nadal's bête noire, but in French there's no sporting connotation at all. To be "la bête noire" of someone is to be particularly hated by them.

Maître d’: While Maître d'hôtel, like in English, refers to the person in charge of the service at a restaurant or hotel, that's where the similarity stops. We Anglophones have chopped up the word to just "Maître d" and changed its pronunciation so thoroughly as to render it practically unrecognizable to the French.

Déjà vu: For us Anglos it's "déjà vu" all over again, but in French it just means something you've seen before. So it's similar, but the connotation of repetition and familiarity is missing.

SEE ALSO: Top ten French customs that confuse Anglos

Encore: The French do not yell this at the end of a concert when hoping to get another song out of the band. It's referred to as a "rappel" in France, where this word just means "more".

Entrée: This is a very confusing one because in the United States an entrée is the main course of a meal while in France it's an appetizer. 

Matinée: The French person at the ticket booth will probably understand if you order two seats for the matinée, but don’t count on it. "Matinée" simply means "morning" in the language of Molière, rather than afternoon show at the cinema or theatre.

Risqué:  For Anglos, who of course love to use French-sounding vocabulary to talk about sex, this word means something is slightly indecent or capable of shocking people. That would confuse the French, because the word for them means "risk" plain and simple.

SEE ALSO: Top 12 English words reinvented by the French

Resumé: It’s a United States thing to refer to your CV as a "resumé" and can even cause confusion between Americans and Brits. But another layer of bafflement is added in French, where "resumé" means "summary" and CV is what you send in to get a job (like in the UK).

Double entendre: If you literally translate this one into French it means ‘to hear double’. It’s poetic perhaps, but for Anglos to get their point across they’ll have to say ‘une expression à double sens.’  

Cul-de-sac: For most Anglos this will conjure the image of a round roadway in a housing development ringed by identical homes. It’s a bit more colorful in France, meaning ‘butt of the bag’ and refers to a dead end street.  

Ensuite: If you try to get fancy and start throwing around French words when you book your next hotel room in Paris avoid this one. Though for English-speakers it refers to a room with an attached bathroom, for the French en suite it means "next" or "following".

Alley: It’s spelled a bit differently in French (allée) and has nothing to do with the usually dirty, dark and narrow road or walkway it is in the US or UK. In France an "allée" usually describes a road that runs between two picturesque rows of trees or shrubs or a drive.

And one extra for the road: Après Ski - in English this refers to the boozy session in the bars once skiers have descended from the slops, but with the French perhaps much less likely to go drinking after a day's exercise, "après ski" simply refers to the winter boots they might put on after taking their skies off.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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