Someone sent me a message with “raison d’être” in it. Show off. I actually wondered how he finds “ê” on the keyboard. This is life, isn’t it? Once one can handle English, one realizes that the goal post is moving to a French location.
I used to be annoyed by all the “exotic” words that don’t look like English popping up once in a while in the things I read. English is enough of a headache to me, let alone the intrusion of another unknown language. However recently I sort of change my mind. Instead of being antagonistic towards them, I’ve decided to collect them and enjoy their presence.
These are the recurring French words I encountered here and there. There are more. When I was reading Saul Bellow, French words come up almost in every other page, but I gave up reading him quite a while ago. Now I am too lazy to go back to the book and extract those words that I marked out with an angry highlighter. I even wrote “show off” on the margin of one of the pages, where he used “armoire” to indicate a wardrobe.
raison d’être: the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.
avant-garde: new and unusual or experimental ideas, especially in the arts, or the people introducing them. If you read the New York Time art section, this word comes up very often.
bon voyage: used to express good wishes to someone about to go on a journey.
bon appetite: used as a salutation to a person about to eat. One hears this word being used even in those food shows. And the food is not French.
deja vu: a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.
faux pas: an embarrassing or tactless act or remark in a social situation. It is almost impossible for a non-native speaker to avoid faux pas since there are so many unwritten understatement rules in English and 100 shades of subtlety. It’s a verbal mine field. If one successful avoids one land mine, one is very likely to be caught in another.
cul-de-sac: a street or passage closed at one end. You hear this word very often among people who are doing real estate research.
film noir: Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas,
laissez-faire: a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.
rendezvous: a meeting at an agreed time and place, typically between two people.
souffle: a dish that is made from a sauce, egg yolks, beaten egg whites, and a flavoring or purée (as of seafood, fruit, or vegetables) and baked until puffed up.
hors d’oeuvre: a food served in small portions before the main part of a meal.
Reading Nora Ephron or watching Woody Allen early movies, I saw such words coming up. Or is it Phillip Roth or “Curb Your Enthusiasm”? I don’t know how they did it, but there’s always a little comedic effect associated. I often wondered how I can insert some Asian words into English to produce certain effect–and I am still thinking about it.
glitch: a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or irregularity of equipment.
schmooze: converse; make small talk
schmuck: jerk; foolish person
shtick – comic theme; gimmick
spiel – persuasive story or speech
zietgeist: the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. At first I thought this is a Yiddish word, but Google says it is a German word.
shlep: drag, haul, proceed or move especially slowly, tediously, awkwardly, or carelessly.
chutzpah: /ˈho͝otspə,ˈKHo͝otspə/ extreme self-confidence or audacity.
When I was compiling this list, I felt a pang of regret that I didn’t pick up Spanish. If I just spend 15 minutes every day, I would have been quite proficient after ten years. I’ve learned a little Spanish long time ago before giving up. There are quite a lot of Spanish words in American English at least. Actually every time I see a word ending with “o” or “a”, I would think of Spanish.
desperado: a desperate or reckless person, especially a criminal.
rodeo: an exhibition or contest in which cowboys show their skill at riding broncos, roping calves, wrestling steers, etc.
sierra: a long jagged mountain chain.
siesta: an afternoon rest or nap, especially one taken during the hottest hours of the day in a hot climate.
mustang: an American feral horse which is typically small and lightly built. I know this word from Ford Mustang, which is quite a popular car among young people here.
aficionado: a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime.
bodega: (in the US) a small grocery store, especially in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Actually in New York City, there are many bodegas even in non-Spanish-speaking neighborhood.
fiesta: a religious festival.
patio: a paved outdoor area adjoining a house.
guerrilla: a member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces. This is not to be confused with gorilla, which is a powerfully built ape.
burrito: a Mexican dish consisting of a tortilla rolled around a filling, typically of beans or ground or shredded beef.
daiquiri: a cocktail containing rum and lime juice.
jalapeno: a very hot green chili pepper, used especially in Mexican-style cooking.
nacho: a dish of tortilla chips topped with melted cheese and often also other savory toppings
pina colada: a cocktail made with rum, pineapple juice, and coconut.
salsa: a spicy tomato sauce.
taco: a Mexican dish consisting of a fried tortilla, typically folded, filled with various mixtures, such as seasoned meat, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes.
tequila: a Mexican liquor made from an agave.
cabana: a cabin, hut, or shelter, especially one at a beach or swimming pool.
chipotle: a smoked hot chili pepper used in Mexican cooking.
guacamole: a dish of mashed avocado mixed with chopped onion, tomatoes, chili peppers, and seasoning.