The French and English have a long common history.
Lots of rivalry, lots of wars and lots of friendship too. Hardly surprising that the two languages have so much in common.
Find out more by listening to this podcast.
There are many English words that almost everybody in France knows. There are also many words in French that almost everyone in England knows.
This is hardly surprising when we consider a few historical facts.
If we look at a map of France in 1180, almost half of the country was, in fact, under the influence or part of the English Monarchy.
But, at that time, the language of the royal courts and law courts in England was French, as it would continue to be until the 15th century.
I would like you to consider a question. What percentage of words in English originate from French?
I’m not going to give you a choice. Come up with a number, and we’ll see how close you can get. If you get the exact figure, I will send you a special prize by post (look – another word which is the same in English and French).
I’d like to split this podcast into three parts.
First, I will talk about the many French words we use in English that perhaps the French don’t realise are so common.
Listen to this extract from a famous book and see how many French words you can pick up
The blasé bon vivant looked at the coquette and said:
“Let’s have our rendezvous in the maisonette at the end of the cul-de-sac. Don’t forget to bring me a souvenir. It would be more than a faux-pas if you forgot. A complete gaffe.”
These are the French words:
Blasé is an adjective to describe someone who appears not to care.
Bon vivant is a person who enjoys the good things in life and probably doesn’t work very hard.
Coquette is an attractive and flirtatious young lady.
Rendezvous is a meeting, but it is a little bit different to a normal French meeting. A rendezvous in English is often, but not always, a secret meeting, maybe because the French like secrets.
Maisonette is a small apartment which is usually part of a larger building, typically with only one bedroom.
Cul-de-sac is a nicer way of saying a dead-end street, as in a street which does not connect to another street.
Souvenir is a present you buy to remind someone of a place you have visited, like a t-shirt with “I love New York.”
Faux-pas and gaffe are something you must not do in a social situation, such as asking an overweight lady if she is pregnant.
Are the meanings the same as in French? Almost. Souvenir in French is simply the verb for remember or a memory, so there is a definite connection, but it is not exactly the same.
A faux pas in French means a false step, and it originates from when you are dancing, and you make the wrong move, but it is also used in the same way as in English.
A false friend between two languages is when two words look the same but have a different meaning. This can cause problems as students often assume that, because the word looks so similar, it must also mean the same.
For example, I was in France on holiday. When I was reading the preview of a football match in French on the internet, I was pleased to learn that some of the players had been “blessed” before the match. I hadn’t realised that French football teams were so religious and took the players to the church before a game for the priest to bless them. After looking a little more closely, I realised that “blessé” in French must be injured in English. Blessed in French is “béni.”
I was also very disappointed when I arrived in France the next year and was looking for a pub to have a drink in with some friends. Walking down the street, every house had a sticker on its letter box saying “pas de pub.” I know that “pas” means no, so I assumed that there was no pub in the town, and I went somewhere else. Only later did I realise that “pub” refers to junk mail – a very unpopular form of advertisement in France, if the number of stickers is anything to go by.
In French, there are a number of English words which are used in a surprising way for English speakers.
For example, there is a literal translation of a saying “les doigts dans le nez” when something is a “walk in the park.” “Easy peasy” they say “fingers in the nose” in English, and it is used for the same purpose. For example, “Rafael Nadal a gagné le match sans problême, finger in the nose.”
The French also love to combine a lot of English and French words together to form some trendy sayings such as “faire le forcing” or “feux de warning.” “Faire le forcing” means to push a situation to happen, against all odds, when “feux de warning” are those car lights you use in an emergency situation. We call them hazard lights. If they were a literal French saying, it would sound rather different: “forcer le passage” and “feux de détresse.”
The best is “Peanuts!” This is often used to say “Nothing.” In context, “What have you found in this shop? Peanuts!” Imagine people in France saying peanuts when they mean nothing.
Thanks very much to our French contributor Lisa.
The adjective French is associated with some interesting things in English.
To finish off, let’s see if you can work out which of the 4 phrases is false.
A French window is a door made of glass that you can see through.
A French worker is somebody who is always complaining to the boss.
A French kiss is a more passionate kiss than normal, usually involving the tongue.
French toast is bread soaked in milk and eggs and then fried.
Mmmm, interesting. Which of these is something I have invented? It is, of course, the French worker. The other three are all true.
But, of course, it’s not true that the French worker is always complaining to the boss.
But I have not finished yet. Remember my question at the beginning of this podcast? What percentage words in English originate from French ? I didn’t give you any options. I asked you to come up with a number yourself. If anybody has 29%, you are right. And, as promised, I will send you something in the post if you send your answer to one of the VivaLing social media outlets.
Good bye. Vive la France. Long live the Queen and the entente cordiale!!!
French accordion music with thanks to Dar Golan (dargolan-free.com) Royalty free music New York Baguette.