Noted English professor, author and editor Edward Strunk disliked the use of foreign language in text. He advised that we should “Avoid foreign languages”, and he felt that some writers overuse these exotic words and phrases in order to “show off”. It is true; the generous use of foreign phrases often sounds pretentious, disrupts the reader’s flow and may even cause the reader to rush off in the direction of the nearest language translation book. But not all use is bad use. Moderation is key. When used in moderation, foreign words and phrases can add color and dimension to your work.
You may discover that choice foreign phrases pack a greater punch than their English counter part. Which sounds more dynamic faux pas or ‘false step’? Which conveys more meaning je ne sais quoi or ‘I don’t know what’? My personal favorite is lapsus linguae which sounds far superior to the simple English ‘lapse of the tongue’.
I have compiled a concise list of commonly used foreign phrases along with the English translations. You can print and use this list of words and phrases- but as William Strunk advised- less is more.
1. Ad nauseam (Lat) to the point of nausea.
2. Affaire d’amour (Fr) love affair.
3. Agent provocateur (Fr) professional agitator.
4. Agnus Dei (Lat) Lamb of God.
5. Al fresco (It) in the open air, outdoors.
6. Alter ego (Lat) another I.
7. Ancien regime (Fr) the old order.
8. Ante bellum (Lat) before the war.
9. Au contraire (Fr) on the contrary.
10. Au courant (Fr) up-to-date.
11. Au fait (Fr) well informed.
12. Au naturel (Fr) nude
13. Ave Maria (Lat) Hail Mary.
14. Beau monde (Fr) fashionable society.
15. Carpe diem (Lat) make use of the day.
16.Carte blanche (Fr) unlimited authority.
17. Caveat emptor (Lat) let the buyer beware.
18. Cave canem (Lat) beware of the dog.
19. Chef d’oeuvre (Fr) masterpiece.
20. Comme il faut (Fr) as it should be.
21. Corpus delicti (Lat) the facts connected with a crime.
22. Coup de grace (Fr) a merciful finishing blow.
23. Coup d’etat (Fr) a political stroke.
24. Cum laude and summa cum laude (Lat) with (the highest) praise.
25. De facto (Lat) in fact, actual.
26. Dei gratia (Lat) by the grace of God.
27. De jure (Lat) by right, lawfully.
28. De novo (Lat) from the beginning.
29. De rigueur (Fr) obligatory.
30. De trop (Fr) too much.
31. Dolce far niente (It) sweet to do nothing.
32. En famille (Fr) at home, informally.
33. Enfant terrible (Fr) an unruly child
34. En masse (Fr) all together.
35. En rapport (Fr) in harmony.
36. Entre nous (Fr) (just) between us.
37. Exempli gratia (Lat) for example.
38. Ex officio (Lat) by right of office.
39. Fait accompli (Fr) an accomplished fact.
40. Faux pas (Fr) false step, mistake.
41. Fin de siecle (Fr) end of the century.
42. Haut monde (Fr) upper classes.
43. Hors de combat (Fr) out of the fight.
44. Idee fixe (Fr) a fixed idea.
45. In extremis (Lat) near death.
46. In loco parentis (Latin) in the place of a parent.
47. In statu quo (Lat) in the same condition.
48. Inter nos (Lat) (just) between us.
49. In toto (Lat) in full, totally.
50. Ipso facto (Lat) (by virtue of) the same fact.
51. Je ne sais quoi (Fr) I don’t know what.
52. Jeunesse dor’ee (Fr) gilded youth.
53. Laissez faire (Fr) non-interference, tolerance.
54. Lapsus linguae (Fr) a slip of the tongue.
55. Locum tenens (Lat) a substitute.
56. Magnum opus (Lat) masterpiece.
57. Mise en scene (Fr) stage setting.
58. Modus operandi (Lat) method of working.
59. Modus vivendi (Lat) way of living or getting along.
60. Ne plus ultra (Lat) that which is peerless.
61. Nom de plume (Fr) pen name.
62. Nouveau riche (Fr) newly rich.
63. Par excellence (Fr) above all others.
64. Passim (Lat) here and there.
65. Per annum (Lat) by the year.
66. Per capita (Lat) by the head.
67. Per diem (Lat) by the day.
68. Per se (Lat) by itself, intrinsically.
69. Piece de resistance (Fr) the main dish, the main event.
70. Prima facie (Lat) at first site.
71. Quid pro quo (Lat) something in return, compensation etc.
72. Rara avis (Lat) rare bird, unusual thing.
73. Rigor mortis (Lat) the stiffness of death.
74. Sang-froid (Fr) calmness, indifference.
75. Semper fidelis (Lat) always faithful.
76. Sotto voce (It) under the breath.
77. Status quo (Lat) the existing condition.
78. Sub rosa (Lat) secretly, hidden.
79. Sui generis (Lat) of its own kind, unique.
80. Tempus fugit (Lat) time flies.
81. Terra firma (Lat) solid ground.
82. Tour de force (Fr) feat of skill/strength.
83. Tout de suite (Fr) at once.
84. Vae victis (Lat) woe to the defeated.
85. Vis-à-vis (Fr) face to face.