The English words pinched and reinvented by the French

The French may be notoriously protective of their sacred tongue, they aren’t so careful with English. Here's how they've reinvented words from our language.

The English words pinched and reinvented by the French
Photo: AFP
Strangely, a snack bar, the place where you have a bite to eat, can be shortened to a “snack” and a patron takes part in “le snacking”. “On est allés au snack cet après-midi” translates as “We went to the 'snack' this afternoon”. Très fashion.
Un Parking
The French love adding -ing to give words a sexy modern touch… but for a car park?
“Gare toi dans le parking.” comes out as “Park in the 'parking'.”
Un Sweatshirt
A sweatshirt, in French, is called a “sweat” and is pronounced “sweet”. Don't be surprised when someone casually asks “Have you seen my sweat?” (“T'as vu mon sweat?”)
Le Tuning
This means the modifying or pimping of a car. It possibly comes from the idea of tuning an instrument but the “tuning” isn't something we've heard of in English when it comes to cars.
“Le tuning c'est sa passion” means “'Tuning' is his passion”
Photo: Mark de Jong/Flickr
Un Dressing
If someone asks you to leave your coat in the 'dressing', don't worry. They're only asking you to hang it in the dressing room, not to bathe it in salad sauce.
“Installe-toi, je vais poser ton manteau dans le dressing” or “Take a seat whilst I put your coat in the 'dressing'.”
Un Coming-out
Coming out of the closet becomes a noun when it's used in French, so someone can be said to have “fait son coming-out” (“done his 'coming-out'”).
Etre Cash
It's a bit unclear how this one came into use but when you're cash to someone in France, you're being sincere and saying something as it is.
“Je vais être cash avec toi”, “I'm going to be cash to you”
Partir en Live
To go 'live' (rhymes with five) or “c'est parti en live” is when something or someone absolutely loses control. There are many other equivalent terms such as partir en cacahouète (to go peanuts), partir en vrille (to go spinning), or the more informal partir en sucette (go lollipop) and partir en couille (to go balls).
Du Forcing
If you really insist on something, you are doing some 'forcing', according to the French. 
Je vais faire du forcing“, “I'm going to do some forcing”.
Un Recordman/Une Recordwoman
A strange word to coin but nonetheless it sort of makes sense. It refers to a top athlete who holds one or several records. Plural is, as you can guess, recordmen and recordwomen. Usain Bolt is a recordman for the French.
Photo: AFP
Les rugbymen
In English, calling someone a “rugby man” sounds a bit odd. It would most likely describe a big fan of the sport. While for participants of the sport we use the all-encompassing “rugby players”, the French for some reason say “rugbymen” and “rugbywomen”.
This is the French verb for channel-surfing. It becomes even more Frenchified when the télécommande (remote control) is informally called a “zappette”. And it also means “to forget” or to move on to something else.
“Il passe sa journée à zapper d'une chaîne à l'autre” – He spends his day flicking through the channels.
“Passe-moi la zappette” – Pass the 'zappette'
“J'ai complètement zappé de passer au supermarché” – I completely zapped going to the supermarket.
Au Black
In France if you are working ‘black’ it means your wages are not declared to the government. Though it’s tempting to imagine sitting in pitch darkness trying to take notes during a meeting.
Le brushing
Anglos at French hair salons might be a little confused by this one. The French pay extra to have someone brush their hair? Actually the French use the term “brushing” for a blow-dry.
A collection of the best 're-invented' franglais 'ing' words

Photo: Artur Chalyj/Flickr
Le pressing
This word could leaving you with the question: pressing what? Business, oranges, flowers? In fact it means the dry cleaner’s.
Le footing
Translated back into English, this one means jogging or running as in “Veux-tu faire du footing avec moi?” – (Do you want to go jogging with me?) However, it conjures the curious image of a possible new Olympic sport that involves waving one’s feet in the air.
Un box
It refers to a place, generally a storage unit, or horse stables. You wouldn't ask for a ‘box de chocolat’ at the French candy store.
Un lifting
This one does indeed involve lifting, but it’s a question of what. In this case the French would be referring to a little plastic surgery, usually a facelift. As in “Vous voulez un lifting facial?”
Renée Zellweger, who made headlines recently for her 'facing'. Photo: AFP
Un relooking
Nope it doesn’t mean to look again. In French it describes a makeover. You might see an advert for a “relooking gratuit”, which of course would be a free makeover. This also comes in the form of a verb as seen in this post on one French chat site:
“J'aimerais me faire relooker, comment faire?” – I would like to give myself a makeover, how should I do it?
Le drive
It means the drive-through service at a restaurant or store, though for the sake of clarity the French have deemed the 'through' unnecessary.
Example: “Le “drive” utilisé par près d'un Français sur cinq” was the headline in a newspaper on how one in five French people were using drive-through services.
Flipper and Baby Foot
The first word does not involve a super smart, well-intentioned dolphin, as in the American TV show that featured just such a creature. The French are referring to a pinball machine. The second word means foosball or table football. No cute little toes here.
Les baskets
Nope, this will be of no use for carrying your picnic lunch out to the countryside. It means tennis shoes or trainers. As in “Il joue au ballon en baskets?” (He plays ball in his trainers) Though the idea of ‘footing’ with 'baskets' on your feet is an amusing one.
Un smoking
Smoking is of course a common English word, but it has been given a makeover by the French who would wear a “smoking” rather than do it. In English un smoking is a tuxedo or dinner suit.
“Faudra mettre un smoking pour la soirée” – We'll need to wear a smoking for the evening.
US actor George Clooney wearing a stunning smoking. Photo: AFP
By James Vasina

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.