Tuesday, May 31, 2011

French phrases in literature

Occurrence of foreign phrases are often used by authors to convey a specific meaning that perhaps is best expressed in another language. Dictionaries of word and phrase origins can be very helpful in figuring out what the author wants to convey.

Here are some often used French phrases and their meaning:

bete noir - literally means "black beast." It is used figuratively to refer to a person on think which is disliked on feared.

coup de grace - means the "finishing stroke," often the blow that ends a person's life.

faux pas - literally means "false step." It is usually used to mean social blunder.

en plein air - in the open air

espirit de corps - means spirit of the body. It is the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group

gauche - in French means "left, warped or clumsy;" however, in English it used to mean graceless, tactless, or socially awkward.

laissez-faire -a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

nom de plume - means name of the pen, but in English is it used to mean pseudonym or pen name.

nouveau riche -a person newly rich

roman a clef -a novel in which real persons or actual events figure under disguise

savoir faire - knowing what to do, a capacity for appropriate action; esp: a polished sureness in social behavior


"Internationally Used French Phrases."

Morris, William. Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. New York: Harper and Row, 1988

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