common foreign words in english

Common Foreign Words A-Z

Common Foreign Words in English List

ADDucation’s compilation of common foreign words in English wasn’t easy to compile given English itself began as a Germanic language. Add in a generous helping of old Norse from the Vikings. Spice it liberally with Norman French and Latin constructions and thousands of words anglicized from other languages and the result is English. Occasionally a word is adopted “as is”. By convention foreign phrases are often italicized. It’s up to you to decide if your audience will understand the meaning of these common foreign words in your articles.

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Common foreign wordsSource languageEntomology / Origin / MeaningTrivia / Comments / Usage
addendaLatinA list of additions.
ad libLatinImprovised.One of the most common foreign words.
ad hocLatinFor a particular purpose.
ad infinitumLatinTo infinity.
à la carteFrenchFrom the menu.
ad nauseamLatinTo the point of nausea, to a sickening degree.Trevor talked ad nauseam about his career.
addendaLatinA list of additions.
aficionadoSpanishAn ardent fan.
agent provocateurFrenchAgent who incites others to illegal action.
alcohol
ArabicOriginally “al-kuḥl” ancient Egyptian eyeliner, later any fine powder or distilled spirit or essence.Alcoholic beverages include beers, wines and spirits.
alfrescoItalianFresh air, outdoors.
alma materLatinFormer school (Latin “bountiful mother”).
alter egoLatinSecond self.
angstGermanDread, anxiety.
ars gratia artisLatinArt for art’s sake.
au faitFrenchFamiliar with something (French “to the point”).
au naturelFrenchNatural state, naked.
avant-gardeFrenchUnorthodox, experimental (French “front guard”).
avatar
HindiIcon or representation of a person online.You can often change your avatar on websites and in computer games.
baksheeshPersianTip (Persian “gift”).
bete noireFrenchPersonal annoyance, bugbear (French “black beast”).
blitzkriegGermanSudden overwhelming attack (German “lightning war”).
bon appétitFrenchEnjoy your meal (French “good appetite).One of the most common foreign words in English, probably because we don’t have an English equivalent.
bon vivantFrenchLover of good life.
bon voyageFrenchHave a nice trip.We wished Natasha bon voyage as she left to go traveling.
bona fideLatinIn good faith, genuine.John’s doctor was a bona fide expert in dementia.
bravuraItalianPerformed with energy and skill.
carpe diemLatinSeize the day.Made famous by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society.
carpe noctem
LatinSeize the night (this is not really in very common usage, but we loved the concept of seizing the night instead of the day!).
carte blancheFrenchComplete freedom, unlimited authority (French “white card”).Ron was given carte blanche to choose a new truck.
sus belliLatinPretext or reason that justifies or allegedly justifies an attack of war.
caveat emptorLatinLet the buyer beware.Item sold as seen, caveat emptor.
chutzpahYiddishGall, audacity.
cojonesSpanishTesticles, balls, guts.
cordon bleuFrenchFood cooked to high standard (French “blue ribbon”).
corpus delectiLatinThe evidence required to prove a crime has been committed.
coup de graceFrenchA blow of mercy.
cul-de-sacFrenchDead end (French “bottom of the sack”).
de factoFrenchActual.
de rigueurFrenchObligatory.
déjà vuFrenchSense of having already experienced something (French “already seen”).
derrièreFrenchBehind, bum, bottom, buttocks.
deus ex machineLatinGod of the machine.
doppelgangerGermanGhostly counterpart of a living person (German “double-goer”).
double entendreFrenchDouble meaning.
droit du seigneurFrenchExcessive demands on subordinate. Literally “the lord’s right” to take the virginity of a new bride.
élan FrenchFlair.
enfant terribleFrenchA bad child.
en masseFrenchIn a large group.The crowd voted with their feet and left en masse.
ersatzGermanA substitute.
fait accompliFrenchAn established fact.losing the vote for president was a fait accompli.
fata morganaItalianA striking mirage.
fatwaArabicA legal opinion expressed by Islamic leader.
faux pasFrenchBreach of social etiquette, social blunder (French “false step”).Wearing a long white dress as a wedding guest was a faux pas.
femme fataleFrenchHighly attractive woman who means trouble.
fiascoItalianDisaster.
force de frappeFrenchFrance’s nucelar deterrent (French “superiour force”).
gemütlichGermanCosy.
gestalt GermanForm, shape.
gesundheit GermanHealth, bless you.
glasnost RussianPpenness (Russian “publicity”).
grand mal FrenchEpilepsy attack (French “large illness”).
gringo SpanishForeigner (mainly Mexican).
guru HindiSpiritual leader.
habeas corpusLatin“You should have the body”, protection against unlawful imprisonment.
halal ArabicMeat slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law (Arabic “lawful”).
hoi polloiGreekRabble.
in flagrante delictoLatinCaught in the act (Latin “with the crime still blazing”).
in loco parentisLatinA guardian, in place of a parent.
in vino veritasLatinTruth is in wine.
ipso factoLatinBy the fact itself. “A teacher, ipso facto, is in charge of his or her class.”ipso facto a chef is in charge of a kitchen.
joie de vivreFrenchJoy of life.
kamikazeJapaneseSuicidal attack.A rare Japanese common foreign words used in English!
karaokeJapaneseSinging to a backing track (Japanese “empty orchestra”).
kitschGermanRubbish, bad taste.
la dolce vitaItalianThe good life.
laissez faireFrenchPolicy of non interference.
leitmotivGermanRecurrent theme.
lingua francaItalianCommon language.
mea culpaLatinMy fault.
modus operandiLatinMethod of procedure, method of operating (commonly abbreviated to M.O.).The suspect followed the same M.O.
noblesse obligeFrenchNobility obliges.
nom de plumeFrenchPen name.
non sequiturLatinSomething that doesn’t follow on logically.
persona non grataLatinUnwelcome or unacceptable person.Sally was a persona non grata in our club because she wouldn’t follow the rules.
ce de résistanceFrenchJighlight, special dish.
poltergeistGermanA ghost that moves objects around or causes loud noises (German “noisy ghost”).
prima donnaLatinA temperamental and conceited person.Sophie found it hard to make friends because she was considered to a prima donna
prima facieLatinAt first view.
pro bonoLatinDonated or done without charge.The lawyer took the case on a pro bono basis.
pro formaLatinDone for the sake of form.
pro rataLatinProportionally according to a factor.
pro temporeLatinFor the time being.
punchHindiOriginally “paantsch” an alcoholic drink made of five ingredients; sugar, lemon, alcohol, water, spices or tea.Punch is a popular party drink served from a large punch bowl.
pundit
HindiAn expert, critic or commentator on a specific subject.Punditry, by pundits, analyze sports, express opinions in the media, critique theater, food etc.
quid pro quoLatinSomething for something else, often a fair exchange, sometimes used in sexual harassment cases.Ron gave me his candy bar as quid pro quo for my soft drink.
quod erat demonstratumLatinAs demonstrated (“Q.E.D.”).
raison d’être
FrenchReason for being.
rendezvousFrenchAgree to meet, meeting.
safariSwahiliA journey, expedition.
saffron
ArabicA spice, originally from “za‘farān” then later old french “safran”.Saffron is the most expensive spice and food on Earth – but a little goes a long way.
salaamArabicPeace from (al)-salām.Salaam alei·kum “peace be upon you” is a greeting used by Muslims.
sang froidFrenchCold blood.
savoir-faireFrenchKnowledge of what to do.
schadenfreudeGermanTaking pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.
shampoo
HindiMassage, rub (Hindustani “chāmpo” to press).Humans, animals, cars and furniture can all be shampooed.
sine qua nonLatinIndispensable (Latin “without which not”).
smorgasbordSwedishSandwich or buffet with variety of dishes or situation with many choices.
soupçonFrenchHint of (French “suspicion”).
status quoLatinExisting state or condition.Hannah didn’t like change and preferred to maintain the status quo.
tempus fugitLatinTime flies.
tête-à-têteFrenchA private conversation (French “head to head”).
tour de forceFrenchA feat of strength.
tsunamiJapaneseA large tidal wave (Japanese “harbor wave”).
uber / überGermanVery, max, possessing property to an extreme (German “over”). Now also a taxi company.
vendettaItalianprivate revenge feud among families of murdered persons.
veni, vidi, viciLatinI came, I saw, I conquered.
verbotenGermanForbidden.
vis-à-visFrenchAs compared with.
weltschmerzGermanAnguish over the world’s evils.
wunderkindGermanBoy wonder, someone succeeding at an early age (German “wonder child”).
zeitgeistGermanSpirit of the times.

If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers Doug Larson

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Compiled by A C, last updated August 11, 2019.
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