New Word #46: That Doesn’t Sound Like English

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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.

nada: nothing.

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.

35 thoughts on “New Word #46: That Doesn’t Sound Like English

  1. I discovered quite recently that if you press on a vowel on the phone keyboard (rather than just tapping it) you can get ê, è, ë etc. If I’m on my desktop computer I usually just copy and paste the vowel (or the whole word) from a website.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. really? Is that for Spanish speakers? I mean in the U.S. market, it would make sense since there are quite a significant percentage of Spanish speakers here.


      1. It works on my iPhone – not sure about other types of phone though. It allows you to type a lot of vowels that aren’t in Spanish so I guess it is intended to cater for all the major languages – eg æ is in Icelandic I think, å is in Swedish, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve always wondered if an English speaker go to live in Iceland or Sweden. Can they understand the local language after a while? I mean without really study for it. I mean just by daily interaction and immersion, I wonder… since it’s the same language family, isn’t it?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Sadly the languages are unintelligible to an English speaker even though they are in the same language family. English borrowed so many words from French after the Norman Conquest, and it’s structure changed completely. They say the closest language to English is Frisian – but even there I suspect that only isolated words and phrases would be understood. Some of these languages are (almost) mutually intelligible among themselves – eg Swedish, Norwegian and Danish.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. So true. English is going away from the family and has mingled with other languages. LOL. This is why it is very much a pain to non-native speakers since it is very inconsistent in many ways. Well, English spelling is impossible to master. I didn’t know how people wrote when autocorrection and spell checking were not available. I wasn’t writing much English in those days and if I did, it would be too laborious for me.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. And English seems to store all the languages from others. I am learning Thai and it also has absorbed at least four different languages from the surrounding countries, and English as well, which makes it more difficult to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is interesting how much English absorbs from other languages. In fact, you might find this surprising, there are even English words of Indian origin due to the British Empire colonizing India such as (political) pundit, pajama, and shampoo.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post … I have some German words for you which seem to be known in English as well: doppelganger (a person who looks identical to another), rucksack (backpack), kindergarten (a place for small kids to be watched), kaputt (not in working order anymore), schnapps (distilled alcoholic beverage), sauerkraut (cabbage) … it’s great how foreign words find their place in our mother tongues. English, of course, foremost. One of my favourite Yiddish words my mum used at home – even though we don’t have Jews in our ancestors which I think is really sad because Austria (when it still was a vast monarchy and huge melting pot of different cultures) has to thank them for great art, literature, theater, … and it pains me how they were and still are treated worldwide … what a disgrace … anyway. The word is “meschugge” which means crazy. And I just loooove it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thank you for such wonderful words. I think I know about half of them. Schnapps and kaputt are new to me. And I share your loooove for “meschugge”. What a wonderful word and I will stop using “crazy” from now on and switch to “meschugge”. I will add your words to my post (with a thank to your website included) this weekend sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How illuminating! I confess to using most of the words you cite including the French ones because they are peppered in most books we read but didn’t know that many others were of Spanish German origin etc. Very informative and interesting series by a lover of words I just love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Shammi, always. I’d like to be your companion in word loving. Yes, it is hard to know which one is really English English. It seems that a lot are from other languages. LOL. Thank you for the encouragement and maybe I should do a post on those words that borrowed from Asian countries. LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, English is loaded with words and phrases lifted directly from another language. Some have been around for so long nobody even realizes they are of foreign origin sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Je ne sais quoi is fairly common, but it seems more popular with people who have actually studied French. Btw, the appetizer one for French is spelled hors d’oeuvres. I have noticed gringo is a common Spanish word in the US. A Mexican friend of mine said it’s used to refer to rednecks, not white people specifically. A good German word is schadenfreude, which translates to joy of other’s misery


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