French Connection

Bonjour fellas!

For anybody who has developed even the slightest interest in reading in the English language would have observed an interesting game of words. The language is abundant with words which have origins in and around the world. After all, English today, is a global language.

This week I decided to dig deeper into one such influence and dedicated my research to the usage of words of French origin in the English language.

French words and its associated vocabulary made entry into English language after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. It became the new language of the elites. Even after the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), French words continue to form a significant part of English. Figuratively 58% of the modern English vocabulary has words with French and Latin origin.

The term used to describe the origin and history of words is ‘Etymology’. Say for example, if we consider the word etymology then it is derived from the Greek word etumos which means true. Etumolgia can be explained as the study of words “true meanings”. The old French further tweaked ethimolgie as etymology.

There are many words in English which have really interesting and unheard of French origins. Listed below are some examples:

  • Cliché

Pronunciation: cli·​ché 

Figure of speech: Noun

The word is derived from the French word clicher which as a figure of speech is a verb. The meaning of the word clicher is ‘to click’, obviously because of the sound it makes. The word cliché however means an over-used expression. The google states ‘stereotype’ as a synonym for the same.

Usage: Honesty is the best policy is a cliché.

  • Déjà vu

Pronunciation: /deɪʒɑː ˈvu

Figure of speech: Noun

This word is used in same manner as it is used in French language. The meaning of the word is “already seen’. It is used to describe a feeling in a present situation that has been felt previously also. The word came to usage from 1903. The scientific origin of the word is from promnesia which means pro+ mnesia meaning before+ memory in the respective order.

Usage: I felt a sense of déjà vu when I left my wallet in the car.

  • Milieu

Pronunciation: ˈmiːljəː,mɪˈljə

Figure of speech: Noun

It is a word with two French sub words. The division is mi +lieu. Lieu stands for a locus or a place and the word mi means middle. The English borrowed this word from French word milieu in the 1800s. The meaning of the word thus becomes the environment, background or the setting in which something takes place.

Usage: Theirs was a bohemian milieu in which people often played romantic musical chairs.

  • Bon voyage

Pronunciation: /bōⁿ-ˌvȯi-ˈäzh/

Figure of speech: Noun

The word came to usage inn the year 1670. It is made up of two words bon +voyage. The word bon is an adjective and means good. It is further used in bon appetite. The word voyage means journey, travel or errand. The meaning of the complete word bon voyage thus becomes good journey or a pleasant trip.

Usage: With a bon voyage toast, the couple’s family wished them a safe honeymoon journey

  • Voila

Pronunciation:   vwä-ˈlä 

Figure of speech: Interjection

It is used as an expression of joy or relief. The word came into usage in 1739. It is assumed that voila is actually a variation wallah but with a French connection. The word voila if dismantled combines two words voir +la where voir stands for to see and la means there.

Usage: My mother sat one full day to write 20 pages of her upcoming book and voila she had achieved her target.

  • Rendezvous

Pronunciation: ˈrän-di-ˌvü 

Figure of speech: Noun and Verb

This French word is used in English without altering its spelling. Initially in the year 1582, the word was used as noun which meant a meeting place. In the year 1642, the word usage changed into a verb and its meaning also changed to meet or come together at a time or place.

Usage:  I had a rendezvous with Amit after ditching all my plans for the weekend. (Used a verb)

  • Solicitor

Pronunciation:  sə-ˈli-sə-tər

Figure of speech: noun

In the early 15th century, the old French used the word soliciteur for the “one who urges’. It was derived from the word solicit. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary a solicitor is also, a British lawyer who advises clients, represents them in the lower courts, and prepares cases for barristers to try in higher courts”.

Usage: Money is that great solicitor that has often succeeded in persuading people to sell their very souls.

  • Souvenir

Pronunciation: ˈsü-və-ˌnir

Figure of speech: noun

The word originates in France and has the following details quoted from the Wikipedia page. From Middle French soubvenir, from Old French sovenir, from Latin subvenīre, present active infinitive of subveniō (“come to mind, occur to”), from sub + veniōDoublet of subvenir.

The word is used to describe a token of remembrance.

Usage: I kept the ticket to the movie as a souvenir of our first date.

  • Fiancé

Pronunciation: ˌfē-ˌän-ˈsā 

Figure of speech: Noun

This is one word that has maximum usage in English. It is used very often. It describes a man who is engaged to get case of a woman who is engaged then she referred to as fiancée. It is past particle of fiancer meaning “to betroth”. It came into effect in 1864 from French.

Usage: Linda was dying to make her friends meet her fiancé.

  • Connoisseur

Pronunciation: kaw-nuh-suh

Figure of speech: Noun

There were many terms in old French which have been used sparingly. One such obsolete term was conoistre which meant “to know”. This word was modified in French into connoisseur.

A connoisseur is a person who has great knowledge about fine arts. The expertise ranges from cuisines and wines and comes off as an expert in the matter of taste.

Usage: he was well known connoisseur of fine wine.

In this session I have tried to acquaint you with few French words that have made way in our English conversations. The words I have picked are conventional and hence it is easier to understand them. The idea is to make one familiar with their history, their origin, their pronunciation and their derivation. This helps us remember them easily and make them a part of our communication effectively.

Another point I wish to make is how we can expand our vocabulary. Just like everyone we all have twenty four hours at our disposal. Time will never increase or decrease as per our whims and fancies, however we can continue working on ourselves by making a judicious choice. My aim is not to be philosophical but to simply assert the saying, “If you want it you will find a way, else you will not.”

Until then happy reading and au revoir just the way the French say 🙂

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