It’s no secret that French is responsible for a huge number of words in English. Roughly one-third of all English words can trace their origins back to French as a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066. But while some of these word origins aren’t apparent to your average person—words such as beef and trumpet—some of them are very obviously of French origin. These words retain their French spelling and, more or less, their French pronunciation. Unlike words like beef and trumpet, most native English speakers are aware of their French origins. We call these words loanwords, and the English language is chock-full of them. In this post, we’re going to look at 8 fabulous French loanwords in English, including an infographic and a practice quiz at the end. Amuse-toi bien!
French Loanword 1: CABARET
The first of the French words in English that we will look at is cabaret. A cabaret is a restaurant or club where singing and dancing is performed in the evening.
Tatiana: How was your vacation in Rome?
Gwendolyn: Oh, it was just wonderful! We explored ancient ruins by day, and every night, we were at the cabaret!
One of my favorite jazz songs is called “Cabaret”, and it’s from a movie of the same name. If you’re in the mood to smile, check out the Louis Armstrong version, which is one of the songs I play to cheer myself up when I’m feeling glum.
What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret! 🎵🎶
French Loanword 2: PANACHE
Has anyone ever complimented you on your panache? Panache is the quality of being able to do things in a confident and elegant way that other people find attractive. One synonym is ‘flair’, which also comes from French, by the way!
Pete: I always thought I’d fall in love with a great beauty, but Margot was hardly that. There was just something about her—a certain panache—that completely enthralled me from the moment I met her.
Of all the French words used in English, ‘panache’ is my favorite. It’s a lovely word and all, but the reason I love it is because of how it’s used in Cyrano de Bergerac, one of my all-time favorite stories. As Cyrano is dying, he recalls his old enemies, such as cowardice and compromise. But despite everything, there’s one thing he will take with him when he meets God in heaven: his panache. 💙
French Loanword 3: DEBACLE
A debacle is an event or a situation that is a complete failure and causes embarrassment. This is a wonderfully expressive word in English.
Francine: We need to rehearse every day. I don’t want another debacle like we had at last year’s talent show.
French Loanword 4: FAIT ACCOMPLI
Next on our list of French words in English is fait accompli, which is something that has already happened or been done and that you cannot change.
Burt: Gus had been hemming and hawing over whether or not to do the deal. So, while he way away at the lake, I signed the contract and presented him with a fait accompli when he got back. He was mad, but whatever.
French Loanword 5: NOUVEAU RICHE
On its face, this French loanword is simple. In a basic sense, it simply means “new rich.” However, there’s a little more packed into the term than that.
When we say that someone is nouveau riche, we mean that they have recently become rich and like to show how rich they are in a very obvious way. It is an insulting term, and it sometimes also implies that the person has bad taste in the things they buy.
Phil: My boss really gets under my skin. She says she can’t afford to offer us health insurance, but she wears designer clothes and gets a new car every year! Today, she pulled up in a brand new Escalade with solid gold hubcaps! What the hell?!
Olivia: Solid gold hubcaps?! Talk about nouveau riche.
French Loanword 6: DOSSIER
If you follow US political news, you probably already know this next word that English borrowed from French. A dossier is a collection of documents that contain information about a person, an event, or a subject.
Lauren: Can you bring me the dossier we’ve got on Basil Baker? I’ve got a big meeting with him next week, and I want to do my homework.
French Loanword 7: MAÎTRE D’
A maître d’ is a head waiter, typically in a nice restaurant. I don’t think Waffle House has a maître d’, for example.
Bob: The maître d’ assured us that we were sitting at the best table in the house.
I first learned this French loanword as a child when the movie Aladdin came out:
Life is your restaurant,
And I’m your maître d’! 🎶🎵
French Loanword 8: BAGUETTE
I had to end with something related to food! (I’m starving as I write this, but Sancho is asleep on my lap, so I can’t get up to grab lunch. Ack!)
So, without further ado—not to be confused with adieu, which is another French word used in English!—let’s get to our last French loanword in English. Baguette. A baguette is a loaf of white bread in the shape of a long stick that is crisp on the outside and soft inside.
Hey! You never said what 'adieu' means!
Personally, there’s nothing I love more than sitting down with a baguette and an enormous jar of Nutella, but it’s probably more common to use a baguette for making sandwiches. In fact, in English, a sandwich made with a baguette is also called a baguette!
Lily: Could you stop by the bakery and pick up a baguette on your way home? I think it’d be nice to have some bread to dip in the soup I’m making.
Chris: I’m looking forward to our picnic this Saturday! If you could bring a bottle of wine, I’ll take care of the food. I was thinking some grapes and a couple of baguettes. Do you like ham and cheese?
Infographic: French Words Used in English
Congratulations on getting to the end of this post of French words in English! Here’s a French loanwords infographic to help you remember them.
Of course, there are tons of French loanwords in English, not just eight. Can you think of any others? What about French loanwords in your native language? Let us know in the comments!
Practice Quiz: French Loanwords in English
Take this practice quiz on common French words used in English to see how well you know them! Bonne chance!