French Idiomatic Expressions For Essays On Leadership

Around 45%[1] of English vocabulary is of French origin, most coming from the Anglo-Norman spoken by the upper classes in England for several hundred years after the Norman Conquest, before the language settled into what became Modern English. Thoroughly English words of French origin, such as art, competition, force, machine, money, police, publicity, role, routine and table, are pronounced according to English rules of phonology, rather than French, and are commonly used by English speakers without any consciousness of their French origin.

This article, on the other hand, covers French words and phrases that have entered the English lexicon without ever losing their character as Gallicisms: they remain unmistakably "French" to an English speaker. They are most common in written English, where they retain French diacritics and are usually printed in italics. In spoken English, at least some attempt is generally made to pronounce them as they would sound in French; an entirely English pronunciation is regarded as a solecism.

Some of them were never "good French", in the sense of being grammatical, idiomatic French usage. Some others were once normal French but have become very old-fashioned, or have acquired different meanings and connotations in the original language, to the extent that they would not be understood (either at all, or in the intended sense) by a native French speaker.

Used in English and French[edit]

A[edit]

à gogo
in abundance. In French this is colloquial.
à la
short for à la manière de; in the manner of/in the style of[2]
à la carte
lit. "on the card, i.e. menu"; In restaurants it refers to ordering individual dishes rather than a fixed-price meal.
à propos
regarding/concerning (the correct French syntax is à propos de)
accouchement
confinement during childbirth; the process of having a baby; only this latter meaning remains in French
acquis communautaire
used in European Union law to refer to the total body of EU law accumulated thus far.
aide-de-camp
lit. "camp helper"; A military officer who serves as an adjutant to a higher-ranking officer, prince or other high political dignitary.
aide-mémoire
lit. "memory aid"; an object or memorandum to assist in remembrance, or a diplomatic paper proposing the major points of discussion
Allons-y!
"Let's go!" The letter "y" is the place.
amour propre
"Self-love", Self-respect.
amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule
lit. "mouth-amuser"; a single, bite-sized hors d'œuvre. In France, the exact expression used is amuse-gueule, gueule being slang for mouth (gueule is the mouth of a carnivorous animal; when used to describe the mouth of a human, it is vulgar), although the expression in itself is not vulgar (see also: cul-de-sac). The expression refers to a small mouthful of food, served at the discretion of the chef before a meal as an hors d'oeuvre or between main courses.
ancien régime
a sociopolitical or other system that no longer exists, an allusion to pre-revolutionary France (used with capital letters in French with this meaning: Ancien Régime)
aperçu
preview; a first impression; initial insight.
apéritif or aperitif
lit. "[drink] opening the appetite", a before-meal drink.[3] In colloquial French, un apéritif is usually shortened to un apéro.
appellation contrôlée
supervised use of a name. For the conventional use of the term, see Appellation d'origine contrôlée
appetence
1. A natural craving or desire 2. An attraction or affinity; From French word "Appétence", derived from "Appétit" (Appetite).
après moi, le déluge
lit. "After me, the deluge", a remark attributed to Louis XV of France in reference to the impending end of a functioning French monarchy and predicting the French Revolution. It is derived from Madame de Pompadour's après nous, le déluge, "after us, the deluge". The Royal Air ForceNo. 617 Squadron, famously known as the "Dambusters", uses this as its motto.
arête
a narrow ridge. In French, also fishbone; edge of a polyhedron or graph; bridge of the nose.
armoire
a type of cabinet; wardrobe.
arrière-pensée
ulterior motive; concealed thought, plan, or motive.
art nouveau
a style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It takes a capital in French (Art nouveau).
attaché
a person attached to an embassy; in French it is also the past participle of the verb attacher (= to fasten, to tighten, to be linked)
attaque au fer
an attack on the opponent's blade in fencing, e.g. beat, expulsion, pressure.
au contraire
on the contrary.
au courant
up-to-date; abreast of current affairs.
au fait
being conversant in or with, or instructed in or with.
au gratin
"with gratings", anything that is grated onto a food dish. In English, specifically 'with cheese'.
au jus
lit. "with juice", referring to a food course served with sauce. Often redundantly formulated, as in 'Open-faced steak sandwich, served with au jus.' No longer used in French, except for the colloquial, être au jus (to be informed).
au naturel
1. a. Nude. b. In a natural state: an au naturel hairstyle. 2. Cooked simply.
au pair
a young foreigner who does domestic chores in exchange for room and board. In France, those chores are mainly child care/education.
au revoir !
"See you later!" In French, a contraction of Au plaisir de vous revoir (to the pleasure of seeing you again).
avant-garde (pl. avant-gardes)
applied to cutting-edge or radically innovative movements in art, music and literature; figuratively "on the edge", literally, a military term, meaning "vanguard" (which is a corruption of avant-garde) or "advance guard", in other words, "first to attack" (antonym of arrière-garde).
avant la lettre
used to describe something or someone seen as a forerunner of something (such as an artistic or political movement) before that something was recognized and named, e.g., "a post-modernist avant la lettre", "a feminist avant la lettre". The expression literally means "before the letter", i.e., "before it had a name". The French modern form of this expression is avant l'heure.
avoirdupois
used in Middle English, avoir de pois = commodities sold by weight, alteration of Old French aveir de peis = "goods of weight"

B[edit]

baguette
a long, narrow loaf of bread with a crisp crust, often called "French bread" or "French stick" in the United Kingdom. In French, a baguette is any long and narrow stick-like object.
banquette
a long upholstered bench or a sofa.
beaucoup de
Used interchangeably with the English equivalent of "lots of/many/a great number of". Appropriate when the speaker wants to convey a greater positive connotation and/or greater emphasis. Often used as an informal expression, mostly in small regional dialect-pockets in the Canadian Prairies and the American South, especially in Alberta and Louisiana respectively.
beau geste
lit. "beautiful gesture", a gracious gesture, noble in form but often futile or meaningless in substance. This French expression has been pressing at the door of standard English with only partial success, since the appearance of P. C. Wren's Beau Geste (1924), the first of his Foreign Legion novels.[4]
Beaux-Arts
monumental architectural style of the early 20th century made famous by the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
bel esprit (pl. beaux esprits)
lit. "fine mind"; a cultivated, highly intelligent person.
Belle Époque
a period in European social history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I.
belles-lettres
lit. "fine letters"; literature regarded for its aesthetic value rather than its didactic or informative content; also, light, stylish writings, usually on literary or intellectual subjects
bien entendu
well understood, well known, obvious - "of course"
bien pensant
lit. "well thinking"; right thinking, orthodox. Formerly implied willful blindness to dangers or suffering faced by others but, nowadays corresponds to "politically correct". The noun form bien-pensance is rarely seen in English.
billet-doux
lit. "sweet note", love letter[5]
blasé
unimpressed with something because of overfamiliarity, jaded.
bon appétit
lit. "good appetite"; "enjoy your meal".
bon mot (pl. bons mots
well-chosen word(s), particularly a witty remark ("each bon mot which falls from his lips is analysed and filed away for posterity", The European Magazine, 29 August – 4 September 1996)
bon vivant
one who enjoys the good life, an epicurean.
bon voyage
lit. "good journey"; have a good trip!
bourgeois
member of the bourgeoisie, originally shopkeepers living in towns in the Middle Ages. Now the term is derogatory, and it applies to a person whose beliefs, attitudes, and practices are conventionally middle-class.
bric-à-brac
small ornamental objects, less valuable than antiques; a collection of old furniture, china, plates and curiosities. Cf. de bric et de broc, corresponding to English "by hook or by crook," and brack, refuse.
bricolage
to improvise or assemble something useful from what happens to be at hand; to expedite or economize a project with readily available components, versus a kit or outside sources; to reuse spare parts for other than their original purpose; to create something new by arranging old material; to create a new, valuable purpose for an object that has completed its original purpose and otherwise be discarded. Connotes an intrepid do-it-yourself spirit or clever repurposing. Differs from tinkering which merely modifies an existing arrangement. The term is used metaphorically to describe inventive philosophy, theories, and practices in business and academic fields, where new concepts are found in interactions of old ideas.
brioche
a sweet yeast bun, kind of a crossover between a popover and a light muffin; French also use the term as slang for 'potbelly', because of the overhang effect.
bureau (pl. bureaux)
government office; an agency for information exchange. Also means "desk" in French, and in the U.K.

C[edit]

ça ne fait rien
"that doesn't matter"; rendered as san fairy Ann in British World War I slang.[6][7]
cache
a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place (such as in an oubliette)
cachet
lit. "stamp"; a distinctive quality; quality, prestige.
café
a coffee shop (also used in French for "coffee").
café au lait
coffee with milk; or a light-brown color. In medicine, it is also used to describe a birthmark that is of a light-brown color (café au lait spot).
calque
a copied term/thing.
canard
(canard means "duck" in French)
  1. an unfounded rumor or anecdote.
  2. a leading airfoil attached to an aircraft forward of the main wing.
  3. a slang word for "newspaper".
  4. a piece of sugar slighly soused with coffee or cognac (or another strong alcohol).
canapé
A small, prepared and usually decorative food, held in the fingers and often eaten in one bite. In French, it can also refer to a "sofa".
carte blanche
lit. "white card" (i.e. blank check); unlimited authority.
carte de visite
lit. "visiting card" ; a calling card.

c'est la guerre: "That's war!", or...

c'est la vie: "That's life!" or "Such is life!"

Though either foreign expression can be used to say that life is harsh but that one must accept it, the former may imply a more deliberate cause thereof, while the latter, more accidental.
chaise longue
a long chair for reclining; sometimes misstated as "chaise lounge"
Champs-Élysées
lit. "Elysian Fields"; Avenue des Champs-Élysées, one of the broadest boulevards in Paris. Often referred to as simply les Champs.
chanteuse
a female singer.[8]
chargé d'affaires
a diplomat left in charge of day-to-day business at a diplomatic mission. Within the United States Department of State, a "chargé" is any officer left in charge of the mission in the absence of the titular chief of mission.
chauffeur
driver.
chef d'œuvre
a masterpiece.
cherchez la femme
"look for / seek the woman", in the sense that, when a man behaves out of character or in an otherwise apparently inexplicable manner, the reason may be found in his trying to cover up an illicit affair with a woman, or to impress or gain favour with a woman. This expression was first used in a novel by Alexandre Dumas (père), in the third chapter of Les Mohicans de Paris (1854), in the form of cherchons la femme ("let's look for the woman"). The expression is found in John Latey's 1878 English translation: "Ah! Monsieur Jackal, you were right when you said, 'Seek the woman.'" The phrase was adopted into everyday English use and crossed the Atlantic by 1909.[9]
chez
at the house of: often used in the names of restaurants and the like; Chez Marie = "Marie's".
chic
stylish.
chignon
a hairstyle worn in a roll at the nape of the neck.
cinéma pur
an avant-garde film movement which was born in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.
cinéma vérité
realism in documentary filmmaking. "Vérité" means "truth".
cliché
originally referred to a printer's block used to reproduce type, compare the original meaning of stereotype. A phrase that has become trite through overuse; a stereotype.
clique
a small exclusive group of friends; always used in a pejorative way in French.
cloisonné
an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects.
commandant
a commanding officer. In France, used for an airline pilot (le commandant de bord), in the Army as appellative for a chef de bataillon or a chef d'escadron (roughly equivalent to a major) or in the Navy for any officer from capitaine de corvette to capitaine de vaisseau (equivalent to the Army's majors, lieutenant-colonels and colonels) or for any officer heading a ship.
comme ci, comme ça
lit. "like this, like that"; neither good nor bad, so-so.
communiqué
lit. "communicated"; an official communication.
concierge
a receptionist at a hotel or residence.
concordat
an agreement; a treaty; when used with a capital C in French, it refers to the treaty between the French State and Judaeo-Christian religions during the French Empire (Napoleon): priests, ministers and rabbis became civil servants. This treaty was abolished in 1905 (law Church-State separation) but is still in use in Alsace-Lorraine (those territories were under German administration during 1871–1918).
confrère (also confrere)
a colleague, an associate[10]
contre-coup
against the blow. This word describes the repercussion of a physical or mental shock, or an indirect consequence of an event.
contre-jour
against daylight. This word (mostly used in art namely photography, cinema or painting) describes the light that illumines an object from the other side of your own point of view.
contretemps
an awkward clash; a delay.
coquette
a flirtatious girl; a tease.
cordon bleu
a cordon bleu may refer to several things, both in French and in English :
  1. A person who excels in cooking.
  2. An award given to such a person.
  3. An international group of hospitality management and cooking schools teaching French cuisine, founded in France.
  4. An escalope of veal, chicken or pork stuffed with ham and cheese, then breaded and fried.
cordon sanitaire
a policy of containment directed against a hostile entity or ideology; a chain of buffer states; lit. "quarantine line".
corniche
a road that clings like a ledge to the side of a cliff or mountain.
cortège
a funeral procession; in French has a broader meaning and refers to all kinds of processions.
coup de foudre
lit. "thunderbolt" ("strike of thunder"); a sudden unforeseen event, usually used to describe love at first sight.
coup d'état
political coup, government overthrow
coup de grâce
the final blow that results in victory (lit. "blow of mercy"), historically used in the context of the battlefield to refer to the killing of badly wounded enemy soldiers, now more often used in a figurative context (e.g., business).
coup de main
(lit. "a blow with the hand."), means "help from someone". Example : "Besoin d'un coup de main ?" means "Need help ?"
coup de maître
stroke of the master, master stroke. This word describes a planned action skilfully done. See also tour de force below
coup de théâtre
a dramatic turn of events.[11]
coup d'œil
lit. "a blow (or touch) of the eye"; a glance.
couture
fashion (usually refers to high fashion).
couturier
a fashion designer (usually refers to high fashion, rather than everyday clothes design. In French, it means 'tailor'; a couturière is a seamstress.
crèche
a nativity display; more commonly (in the United Kingdom), a place where children are left by their parents for short periods in the supervision of childminders; both meanings still exist in French.[12]
crème brûlée
lit. "burnt cream"; a dessert consisting primarily of custard and toasted sugar, that is, caramel.
crème de la crème
best of the best, "cream of the cream," used to describe highly skilled people or objects. A synonymous expression in French is fin du fin.
crème fraîche
lit. "fresh cream," a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream and does not curdle.
crêpe
a thin sweet or savoury pancake eaten as a light meal or dessert.
crêperie
a takeaway restaurant or stall, serving crêpes as a form of fast food or street food, or may be a more formal sit-down restaurant or café.
critique
a critical analysis or evaluation of a work, or the art of criticizing. From Latincriticus, from Ancient Greek κριτικός (kritikos).
croissant
a crescent-shaped bread made of flaky pastry; in French also the word for crescent.
cul-de-sac
originally "bottom of sack"[13] and used in English in anatomy since 1738. Used for dead end (street) since 1800 in English, since 14th century in French.[14] The often heard erroneous folk etymology "arse [buttocks] of the sack" is based on the current meaning of cul in French, but cul-de-sac is used to refer to dead ends in modern French and is not vulgar (see also amuse-gueule) though the terms impasse and voie sans issue are more common in modern French.

D[edit]

de rigueur
required or expected, especially in fashion or etiquette.[15]
de trop
unnecessary, unwanted, or more than is suitable.
déclassé
of inferior social status.
décolleté
a woman's garment with a low-cut neckline that exposes cleavage, or a situation in which a woman's chest or cleavage is exposed; décolletage is dealt with below.
décor
the layout and furnishing of a room.
découpage
decoration with cut paper.
demi-glace
a reduced wine-based sauce for meats and poultry.
demi-sec
semi-dry, usually said of wine.
déjà vu
lit. "already seen": an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
dénouement
lit. "untying": the resolution of a narrative.
dépanneur
(Quebec English) a convenience store.
dérailleur
a bicycle gear-shift mechanism.
dernier cri
lit. "latest scream": the latest fashion.
derrière
lit. "behind": rear, buttocks.
déshabillé
partially clad or scantily dressed; also a special type of garment.
détente
easing of diplomatic tension.
digestif
a digestive aid, esp., an after-dinner drink, as brandy.[16]
directeur sportif
lit. "sports director". A person responsible for the operation of a cycling team during a road bicycle race. In French, it means any kind of sports director.
divertissement
an amusing diversion; entertainment.
dossier
a file containing detailed information about a person.[17] In modern French it can be any type of file, including a computer directory. In slang, J'ai des dossiers sur toi ("I have files about you") means having materials for blackmail.
doyen
the senior member of a group; the feminine is doyenne.[18] Also dean (of faculty, or medicine).
dressage
a form of competitive horse training, in French has the broader meaning of taming any kind of animal.
droit du seigneur
lit. "right of the lord": the purported right of a lord in feudal times to take the virginity of one of his vassals' brides on her wedding night (in precedence to her new husband). The French term for this hypothetical custom is droit de cuissage (from cuisse: thigh).
du jour
lit. "of the day": said of something fashionable or hip for a day and quickly forgotten; today's choice on the menu, as soup du jour .[19]

E[edit]

eau de Cologne
a type of perfume, originating in Cologne. Its Italian creator used a French name to commercialize it, Cologne at that time being under the control of France.
eau de toilette
lit. "grooming water." It usually refers to an aromatic product that is less expensive than a perfume because it has less of the aromatic compounds and is more for an everyday use. Cannot be shortened to eau, which means something else altogether in French (water).
eau de vie
lit. "water of life" (cf. Aquavit and whisky), a type of fruit brandy.
écarté
a card game; also a ballet position.
échappé
dance movement foot position.
éclair
a cream and chocolate icing pastry.
éclat
great brilliance, as of performance or achievement. Conspicuous success. Great acclamation or applause.[20]
écorché
flayed; biological graphic or model with skin removed.
élan
a distinctive flair or style.
élan vital
lit. "vital ardor"; the vital force hypothesized by Henri Bergson as a source of efficient causation and evolution in nature; also called "life-force"
éminence grise
lit. "grey eminence": a publicity-shy person with little formal power but great influence over those in authority.
en banc
court hearing of the entire group of judges instead of a subset panel.
en bloc
as a group.
en garde
"[be] on [your] guard". "On guard" is of course perfectly good English: the French spelling is used for the fencing term.
en passant
in passing; term used in chess and in neurobiology ("synapse en passant.")
en pointe
(in ballet) on tiptoe. Though used in French in this same context, it is not an expression as such. A pointe is the ballet figure where one stands on tiptoes. The expression "en pointe," though, means "in an acute angle," and, figuratively, it qualifies the most progressive or modern things (ideas, industry…).
en route
on the way
enfant terrible
lit. "terrible child;" a disruptively unconventional person.
ennui
A gripping listlessness or melancholia caused by boredom; depression
entente
diplomatic agreement or cooperation. L'Entente cordiale (the Cordial Entente) refers to the good diplomatic relationship between France and United Kingdom before the first World War.
entre nous
lit. "between us"; confidentially.
entrée
lit. "entrance"; the first course of a meal (UK English); used to denote the main dish or course of a meal (US English).
entremets
desserts/sweet dishes. More literally, a side dish that can be served between the courses of a meal.
entrepreneur
a person who undertakes and operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the inherent risks.
embonpoint
a plump, hourglass figure.
épater la bourgeoisie or épater le bourgeois
lit. "to shock the middle classes,"[21] a rallying cry for the French Decadent poets of the late 19th century including Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud.[22][23]
escargot
snail; in English, used only as a culinary term.
esprit de corps
lit. "spirit of the body [group]": a feeling of solidarity among members of a group; morale. Often used in connection with a military force.
esprit de l'escalier
lit. "wit of the stairs"; a concise, clever statement you think of too late, that is, on the stairs leaving the scene. The expression was created by French philosopher Denis Diderot. Very rarely used in French[citation needed].
l'État, c'est moi !
lit. "I am the state!" — attributed to the archetypal absolute monarch, Louis XIV of France.
étude
a musical composition designed to provide practice in a particular technical skill in the performance of an instrument. French for "study."
étui
small ornamental case for needles or cosmetics.
excusez-moi
"Excuse me".
extraordinaire
extraordinary, usually as a following adjective, as "musician extraordinaire."

F[edit]

façade
the front view of an edifice (from the Italianfacciata, or face); a fake persona, as in "putting on a façade" (the ç is pronounced like an s)
fait accompli

See also: Fait Accompli (disambiguation)

lit. "accomplished fact"; something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed; a done deal.[24] In French used only in the expression placer/mettre quelqu'un devant le fait accompli meaning to present somebody with a fait accompli. Also see point of no return.
faute de mieux
for want of better.
faux
false, ersatz, fake.
faux pas
lit. "false step": violation of accepted, although unwritten, social rules.[25]
femme fatale
lit. "deadly woman": an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men for her personal goals, after which she discards or abandons them. It extends to describe an attractive woman with whom a relationship is likely to result, or has already resulted, in pain and sorrow.[26]
feuilleton
lit. "little leaf of paper": a periodical, or part of a periodical, consisting chiefly of non-political news and gossip, literature and art criticism, a chronicle of the latest fashions, and epigrams, charades and other literary trifles.
fiancé(e)
betrothed; lit. a man/woman engaged to be married.
film noir
Lit. "black film": a genre of dark-themed movies from the 1940s and 1950s that focus on stories of crime and immorality.
fils
lit. "son": used after a man's surname to distinguish a son from a father, as Alexandre Dumas, fils.
fin de siècle
The end of the century, a term which typically encompasses both the meaning of the similar English idiom turn of the century and also makes reference to the closing of one era and onset of another.
flambé
a cooking procedure in which alcohol (ethanol) is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames, meaning "flamed" in French. Also used colloquially in reference to something on fire or burned.
flambeau
a lit torch.
flâneur
a gentleman stroller of city streets; an aimless idler.
fleur-de-lis
a stylized-flower heraldic device; the golden fleur-de-lis on an azure background were the arms of the French Kingdom (often spelled with the old French style as "fleur-de-lys").
fleur de sel
lit. "flower of salt," hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Is one of the more expensive salts; traditional French fleur de sel is collected off the coast of Brittany most notably in the town of Guérande (Fleur de Sel de Guérande being the most revered), but also in Noirmoutier, Île de Ré and Camargue.
foie gras
fatty liver; usually the liver of overfed goose, hence: pâté de foie gras, pâté made from goose liver.
folie à deux
a simultaneous occurrence of delusions in two closely related people, often said of an unsuitable romance. In clinical psychology, the term is used to describe people who share schizophrenic delusions. The derived forms folie à trois, folie à quatre, folie en famille or even folie à plusieurs do not exist in French where "collective hysterics" is used.
force majeure
an overpowering and unforeseeable event, especially when talking about weather (often appears in insurance contracts).
forte
Lit. "strong point" (of a sword). Strength, expertise, one's strong point.
froideur
coldness (for behavior and manners only).

G[edit]

gaffe
blunder
garçon
lit. "boy" or "male servant"; sometimes used by English speakers to summon the attention of a male waiter (has a playful connotation in English but is condescending and possibly offensive in French).
gauche
lit. "left". Clumsy, tactless.
gaucherie
boorishness, clumsiness.
gendarme
a member of the gendarmerie; colloquially, a policeman
gendarmerie
a military body charged with police duties
genre
a type or class, such as "the thriller genre".
gîte 
furnished vacation cottage typically in rural France.
glissade
slide down a slope.
Grand Prix
lit. "Great Prize"; a type of motor racing.
Grand Guignol
a horror show, named after a French theater famous for its frightening plays and bloody special effects. (Guignol can be used in French to describe a ridiculous person, in the same way that clown might be used in English.)
grenadier
a specialized soldier, first established for the throwing of grenades and later as elite troops.

H[edit]

habitué
one who regularly frequents a place.[27]
haute couture
lit. "high sewing": Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion
haute école
lit. "high school": advanced components of Classical dressage (horseback riding); when capitalized (Haute Ecole), refers to France's most prestigious higher education institutions (e.g., Polytechnique, ENA, Les Mines)
hauteur
lit. "height": arrogance.[28]
haut monde
lit. the "high world": fashionable society.
Honi soit qui mal y pense
"Shamed be he who thinks ill of it"; or sometimes translated as "Evil be to him who evil thinks"; the motto of the English Order of the Garter (modern French writes honni instead of Old French honi and would phrase "qui en pense du mal" instead of "qui mal y pense").
hors de combat
lit. "out of the fight": prevented from fighting or participating in some event, usually by injury.
hors concours
lit. "out of competition": not to be judged with others because of the superiority of the work to the others.
hors d'œuvre
lit. "outside the [main] work": appetizer.

I[edit]

idée fixe
lit. "fixed idea": obsession; in music, a leitmotiv.
impasse
a situation offering no escape, as a difficulty without solution, an argument where no agreement is possible, etc.; a deadlock.[29]
ingénu(e)
an innocent young man/woman, used particularly in reference to a theatrical stock character who is entirely virginal and wholesome. L'Ingénu is a famous novella written by Voltaire.

J[edit]

j'accuse
"I accuse"; used generally in reference to a political or social indictment (alluding to the title of Émile Zola's exposé of the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal that divided France from the 1890s to the early 1900s (decade) and involved the false conviction for treason in 1894 of Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Jewish background).
j'adoube
In chess, an expression, said discreetly, that signals the intention to straighten the pieces without committing to move or capturing the first one touched as per the game's rules; lit. "I adjust," from adouber, to dub (the action of knighting someone).
je ne regrette rien
"I regret nothing" (from the title of a popular song sung by Édith Piaf: Non, je ne regrette rien). Also the phrase the UK's then Chancellor of the ExchequerNorman Lamont chose to use to describe his feelings over the events of September 16, 1992 ('Black Wednesday').
je ne sais quoi
lit. "I-don't-know-what": an indescribable or indefinable 'something' that distinguishes the object in question from others that are superficially similar.
jeu d'esprit
lit. "play of spirit": a witty, often light-hearted, comment or composition
jeunesse dorée
lit. "gilded youth"; name given to a body of young dandies, also called the Muscadins, who, after the fall of Robespierre, fought against the Jacobins. Today used for youthful offspring, particularly if bullying and vandalistic, of the affluent.[30]
joie de vivre
"joy of life/living".

L[edit]

l'appel du vide
lit. "call of the void"; used to refer to intellectual suicidal thoughts, or the urge to engage in self-destructive (suicidal) behaviors during everyday life. Examples include thinking about swerving in to the opposite lane while driving, or feeling the urge to jump off a cliff edge while standing on it. These thoughts are not accompanied by emotional distress.
laïcité
separation of the State and the different Churches (at first, it concerned especially Catholicism). In France, where the concept originated, it means an absence of religious interference in government affairs and government interference in religious affairs. But the concept is often assimilated and changed by other countries. For example, in Belgium, it usually means the secular-humanist movement and school of thought.
laissez-faire
lit. "let do"; often used within the context of economic policy or political philosophy, meaning leaving alone, or non-interference. The phrase is the shortcut of Laissez faire, laissez passer, a doctrine first supported by the Physiocrats in the 18th century. The motto was invented by Vincent de Gournay, and it became popular among supporters of free-trade and economic liberalism. It is also used to describe a parental style in developmental psychology, where the parent(s) does not apply rules or guiding. As per the parental style, it is now one of the major management styles.
laissez-passer
a travel document, a passport
laissez les bons temps rouler
Cajun expression for "let the good times roll": not used in proper French, and not generally understood by Francophones outside Louisiana, who would say profitez des bons moments (enjoy the good moments).
lamé
a type of fabric woven or knit with metallic yarns.
lanterne rouge
the last-place finisher in a cycling stage race; most commonly used in connection with the Tour de France.
lèse majesté
an offense against a sovereign power; or, an attack against someone's dignity or against a custom or institution held sacred (from the Latin crimen laesae maiestatis: the crime of injured majesty).
liaison
a close relationship or connection; an affair. The French meaning is broader; liaison also means "bond"' such as in une liaison chimique (a chemical bond)
lingerie
a type of female underwear.
littérateur
an intellectual (can be pejorative in French, meaning someone who writes a lot but does not have a particular skill).[31]
louche
of questionable taste, but also someone or something that arouses somebody's suspicions.[32]
Louis Quatorze
"Louis XIV" (of France), the Sun King, usually a reference to décor or furniture design.
Louis Quinze
"Louis XV" (of France), associated with the rococo style of furniture, architecture and interior decoration.

M[edit]

macramé
coarse lace work made with knotted cords.
madame 
a woman brothel-keeper (Fowler's Modern English Usage, 3rd edition, p. 475).[33] In French, a title of respect for an older or married woman (literally "my lady").
mademoiselle
lit. "my noble young lady": young unmarried lady, miss.
malaise
a general sense of depression or unease.
mange tout
another phrase describing 'peas' (lit. "eat-all," because some peas can be cooked and eaten with their pod).
manqué
unfulfilled; failed.
Mardi gras
Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, the last day of eating meat before Lent.
marque
a model or brand.
matériel
supplies and equipment, particularly in a military context (French meaning is broader and corresponds more to "hardware")
mauvais quart d'heure
lit. "bad quarter hour": a short unpleasant or uncomfortable moment.
mdr
Alt., MDR. Abbreviation in SMS, akin to LOL; for mort de rire (mort, adj. or verb, past tense), or mourir de rire (mourir, verb, infinitive). Lit., as adjective or past tense, dead or diedof laughing, so "died laughing" or "dying of laughter"; compare mort de faim for starve.
mélange
a mixture.
mêlée
a confused fight; a struggling crowd.
ménage à trois
lit. "household for three": a sexual arrangement between three people.[34]
métier
a field of work or other activity; usually one in which one has special ability or training.
milieu
social environment; setting (has also the meaning of "middle" in French).
milieu intérieur
the extra-cellular fluid environment, and its physiological capacity to ensure protective stability for the tissues and organs of multicellular living organisms.
mirepoix
a cooking mixture of two parts onions and one part each of celery and carrots.
mise en place
an assembly of ingredients, usually set up in small bowls, used to facilitate cooking. This means all the raw ingredients are prepared and ready to go before cooking. Translated, "put in place."
mise en scène
the process of setting a stage with regard to placement of actors, scenery, properties, etc.; the stage setting or scenery of a play; surroundings, environment.
mise en table
table setting.
montage
editing.
le mot juste
lit. "the just word"; the right word at the right time. French uses it often in the expression chercher le mot juste (to search for the right word).
motif
a recurrent thematic element.
moue
a pursing together of the lips to indicate dissatisfaction, a pout.
mousse
a whipped dessert or a hairstyling foam; in French, however, it refers to any type of foam or moss.

N[edit]

né, née
lit. "born": a man's/woman's birth name (maiden name for a woman), e.g., "Martha Washington, née Dandridge."
n'est-ce pas?
"isn't it [true]?"; asked rhetorically after a statement, as in "Right?".
noblesse oblige
"nobility obliges"; those granted a higher station in life have a duty to extend (possibly token) favours/courtesies to those in lower stations. Used in French with the definite article ("La noblesse oblige").
nom de guerre
pseudonym to disguise the identity of a leader of a militant group, literally "war name," used in France for "pseudonym".[35]
nom de plume
originally a "back-translation" from the English "pen name": author's pseudonym.
nonpareil
Unequalled, unrivalled; unique ; more usual in modern French would be sans pareil (literally "without equal").
nouveau (pl. nouveaux; fem. nouvelle; fem. pl. nouvelles)
new.
nouveau riche
lit. "newly rich", used to refer particularly to those living a garish lifestyle with their newfound wealth; see also arriviste and parvenu.
nouvelle vague
lit. "new wave." Used for stating a new way or a new trend of something. Originally marked a new style of French filmmaking in the late 1950s and early 1960s, reacting against films seen as too literary.

O[edit]

objet d'art
a work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture; also a utilitarian object displayed for its aesthetic qualities
œuvre
"work," in the sense of an artist's work; by extension, an artist's entire body of work.
opéra bouffe
comedy, satire, parody or farce.
outré

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