Learning French

The Fondue Files: It’s all French to me

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If you've ever experienced 'déjà-vu', a 'faux pas', or had a private 'tête-à-tête', you've been speaking more French than you realise.

Think French is a whole other language? Think again, and you'll be speaking more French than you realise.

You know all those awkward words in English that are hard to pronounce and read less phonetical than usual? Such as lingerie, croissant, grand prix? Well, you have French to thank for those.

Ever uttered an indignant, "Excusez-moi?!” Or wished someone bon voyage, or declared with a resigned shrug 'C’est la vie'?

Whether your tastes are more avant-garde, or you like to go au naturel, or you have a thing for bric-a-brac, you’re speaking French without possibly realising.

Ever described a girl as brunette, blonde, petite or chic? A fan of fine cuisine? Have you cried, “Encore!” at a show or travelled en masse?

You might have also spoken French if you've lived in a cul-de-sac, experienced déjà-vu, had a private tête-à-tête, staged a coup, made a faux pas or had a fiancé. Or have you sautéed something, executed a pirouette, applied some rouge, been a bit risqué, RSVP’d (respondez, s’il vous plaît) and typed sans-serif? There, see, you’re practically fluent!

Prêt-à-Manger, that well-known vendor of refreshment, in fact means 'ready to eat', and has nothing to do with where baby Jesus was born. Although, a manger is so named because it’s a trough from which animals eat, as manger = to eat in French. Aren’t languages fascinating?

On the other side of the channel, you get plenty of anglicismes in the French language. Un sandwich, un rice cooker (that one always makes me laugh), le parking, le brainstorming, un job, le week-end, un gentleman, le comeback, le chewing gum, le look. Then there are some rather bizarre mutations, such as le footing (jogging) or le talkie-walkie.

French words employed in English are also used in the context of high culture – haute couture, ballet, gourmet – and tend to create might call a loftier ambiance, if you like, vis-à-vis the subject matter (see what I mean?). Interestingly, the French seem to have the opposite view of the anglicisms that are creeping into their language, and L’Academie Française appears determined to protect the language from English contamination – a debacle indeed!

*A note for my non-anglophone friends (of which I have happily made many), the title of this blog post does have more signification than the obvious. It’s a play on the English phrase 'it’s all Greek to me', meaning, essentially, 'I don’t understand'.

Reprinted with permission of The Fondue Files.

Teresa began The Fondue Files as a chronicle of her escapades as an exchange student in Switzerland, where she wrote about culture, language and travel. You can also read the French version of her blog Les Franco-Files. Hailing from London, she has also called Beijing and Scotland home. 

Thumbnail credit: Jason Scragz.

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