GrammarPhile Blog

Some Common Foreign Words and Phrases

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jun 19, 2012 5:30:00 AM

You've been there, at some chic party, when the pompous oaf next to you says something like this: "My wife's such a delightful party guest--well-dressed, polite, and always ready with a bon mot." A what? Well, you don't want to look ignorant, so you smile and try to appear as though you know precisely what the fellow meant. And so does everyone else, even though they're probably wondering too! Read on, and this weekend it will be you impressing your friends with some very cool words.

JOIE DE VIVRE (jwa dih VEE-vruh) FRENCH
Definition: A hearty enjoyment of life. Literally, "joy of living."
Usage: Granny has real joie de vivre. She drives a convertible, listens to Caspian, and still skis the slalom course at fifteen off with the best of them.

PERSONA NON GRATA (purr-SOH-nuh nahn GRAH-tuh) LATIN
Definition:
Unacceptable or unwelcome.
Usage: Billy has been persona non grata around our house ever since he knocked a baseball through our dining-room window.

FAUX PAS (foe pah) FRENCH
Definition:
A social blunder. Usage: Criticizing the boss's daughter was just her first faux pas on the new job.

MENSCH (mentsh) YIDDISH
Definition:
A person of honor and integrity; a decent, upright person.
Usage:
His grandfather always used to tell him, "Comb your hair, straighten your tie, look people in the eye, be a mensch."

ENFANT TERRIBLE (on-fon teh-REE-bleh) FRENCH
Definition:
A difficult child; an unconventional or outspoken person whose behavior dismays or embarrasses others.
Usage: In the author's opinion, John McEnroe, the enfant terrible of the eighties, single-handedly ruined the sport of tennis in America.

CHEZ (shay) FRENCH
Definition:
At the home of; at or by. Often used with the French word nous (we), meaning "at our home."
Usage: You're invited to a party chez nous. Worth noting: Don't say "You're invited to a party at chez nous."

PIÈCE DE RÉSISTANCE (pee-ESS dih ray-zees-TAHNSS) FRENCH
Definition: The prized item in a collection; a cook's signature dish.
Usage: Mary's scrumptious chocolate cake is the pièce de résistance of the neighborhood potluck.

RAISON D'ÊTRE (RAY-zohn DEH-truh) FRENCH
Definition: Reason for being.
Usage: My dog Bosco's raison d'être is simple: be my wife's shadow 24/7.

VIS-À-VIS (VEEZ-ah-VEE) FRENCH
Definition: Face-to-face with; compared with; in regard to.
Usage: My thoughts vis-à-vis the new plan are mixed: We'll make millions but we'll have to live in Antarctica.

BON MOT (bouh MOE) FRENCH
Definition: A clever remark or witticism.
Usage: [See paragraph one.] Worth noting: Say "bon" with a nasalized French sound; the N is not actually pronounced.

Today's assignment is to use one or two of these words and phrases in a way that helps you and your conversation partner grow in your knowledge and appreciation of language and its diversity.

NOTE: If you are an HTML author and wonder how to get special characters into your text, visit http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/international/web/index.html.

Source: Real Simple, February 2005.

Topics: foreign words, foreign phrases

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