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Cyphernaut - Common Words and Expressions (French-Français)

There is an abundance of French expressions which have become commonplace in the English speaking world. Words and expressions such as film noir, cordon bleu and grand prix are commonplace in our culture. Here is just a small sampling of some of the words and expressions, some which are tricky to pronounce, that Franch language and culture has given the world.


Common Words and Expressions (Français)
Word/ExpressionPronunciationMeaning
à la carte (ah lah kahrt) literal trans. "on the menu" - enables a customer to order an individual item instead of a complete meal
à la mode (ah lah mohd) literal trans. "in the style" - usually means in the U.S. adding a topping like ice cream onto another food ie. pumpkin pie à la mode - in France it means stylish
avant-garde (a-vahn gahrd) literal trans. "advance guard" - cutting edge developments in a field such as music, arts or technology
bête noire (bet nwahr) literal trans. "black beast" - a person or thing that is strongly detested
bon vivant (bohn vee-vahn) literal trans. "good life" - a person who enjoys the good life
carte blanche (kahrt blahnsh) literal trans. "white card" - unlimited permission or freedom to do something
c'est la vie (say lah vee) literal trans. "that's life" - a common phrase meant to acknowledge that sometimes life is rough and we just have to accept it
chargé d'affaires (shahr-zhay dah-fehr) literal trans. "charge of business" - a person left in charge of daily business affairs in a diplomatic mission
comme ci, comme ça (kohm see kohm sah) literal trans. "like this or that" - neither good nor bad; so-so
cordon bleu (kohr-dohn bluh) literal trans. "blue ribbon" - usually refers to a master of the culinary arts
coup d'état (koo deh tah) literal trans. "strike of the state" - an overthrow of the existing government
entre nous (ahn-truh noo) literal trans. "between us" - confidentially
esprit de corps (es-pree deh kohr) literal trans. "sprit of the body" - a sense comradery of a group or a team
fait accompli (feh ah-kohn-plee) literal trans. "accomplished fact" - something that has already certain
faux pas (foh pah) literal trans. "false step" - an embarrassing blunder in social protocol
film noir (feelm nwahr) literal trans. "black film" - a genre of films from the 40s and 50s which focused on crime or immorality
fleur-de-lis (fluhr deh leess) literal trans. "flower of the lily" - a stylized decorative design that has been used to symbolize anything French
foie gras (fwah grah) literal trans. "fatty liver" - luxury food consisting of a liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened
Grand Prix (grahn pree) literal trans. "great prize" - motor racing that involves navigating tight turns on establish city streets ie. the Monaco Grand Prix
haute couture (oht koo-tewr) literal trans. "high sewing" - high fashion, exclusive clothing, usually from Paris
hors d'œuvre (or derv) literal trans. "outside the work" - an appetizer or food served before the main course
je ne sais quoi (zhuh nuh seh kwah) literal trans. "I don't know what" - an indescribable quality that distinguishes a person or thing from other similar appearing people or things
joie de vivre (zhwah de vee-vruh) literal trans. "joy of living" - a love of life
laissez-faire (leh ssay fehr) literal trans. "let do" - usually applied in economics, it describes a philosophy of non-interference or a lack of oversight
ménage à trois (me-nahzh ah trwah) literal trans. "household for three" - a romantic liason between three people
n'est-ce pas? (nays pah) literal trans. "isn't it true" - verification of the validity of a previous statement
noblesse oblige (no-blehs ohb-leezh-uh) literal trans. "nobility obliges" - the belief that those in higher classes of society must extend courtesies to those in lower classes
nom de plume (nohn duh plewm) literal trans. "pen name" - an author's pseudonym ie. Mark Twain was Samuel Clemen's nom de plume
objet d'art (ohb-zhay dahr) literal trans. "work of art" - a work of art, formerly a painting or sculpture, but now commonly ascribed to utilitarian objects with unusual aesthetic qualities
passe-partout (pahs pahr-too) literal trans. "master key" - a passport or a document that allows one to travel without hindrance
pince-nez (pons nay) literal trans. "nose pincher" - a type of spectacle without temple arms that 'pinches' onto the nose - popular in the 19th century with such men as Teddy Roosevelt
prêt-à-porter (preht ah pohr-tay) literal trans. "ready to wear" - ubiquitous fashion term meaning clothes ready to wear off the shelf
raison d'être (reh-zohn deh-t[ruh])
- the ruh is lightly pronounced in French
literal trans. "reason for being" - a justification for living or purpose of life
répondez s'il vous plaît (RSVP) (reh-pohn-deh seel voo pleh) literal trans. "please respond" - RSVP is a common request at the end of a letter asking for a response
savoir-faire (sah-vwhar fehr) literal trans. "know how to do" - the ability of a person to know exactly the right thing to say or do
soupe du jour (soop dew zhoor) literal trans. "soup of the day" - the featured soup of the day in a restaurant
tableau vivant (tah-bloh vee-vahn) literal trans. "living picture" - an artistically arranged group of people arranged to represent a scene or an event
tête-à-tête (teht a tet) literal trans. "head to head" - a private meeting between two people
vis-à-vis (veez a vee) literal trans. "face to face" - in realtion to or in opposition to a specified object or subject
Voilà! (vwah-lah) literal trans. "see there" - an expression of triumph, like Eureka!
voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)? (voo-leh-voo koo-sher a-vehk mwah suh swahr) literal trans. "will you spend the night with me?" - pickup line made popular in the 70s song Lady Marmalade by LaBelle




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