common foreign words in english

Common Foreign Words A-Z

Common Foreign Words in English List
“If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers”
– Doug Larson

It’s not easy to compile a list of common foreign words in a language which 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”, here is ADDucation’s compilation of common foreign words in English we deemed worthy of inclusion.

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Common foreign wordsSource languageMeaningExample / Comments
addendaLatinlist of additions
ad libLatinimprovisedOne of the most common foreign words
ad hocLatinfor a particular purpose
ad infinitumLatinto infinity
à la carteFrenchfrom the menu
ad nauseumLatinto the point of nausea, to a sickening degreeTrevor talked ad nauseam about his career.
addendaLatinlist of additions
aficionadoSpanishan ardent fan
agent provocateurFrenchagent who incites others to illegal action
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”)
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 tripWe wished Natasha bon voyage as she left to go travelling.
bona fideLatinin good faith, genuineJohn’s doctor was a bona fide expert in dementia.
bravuraItalianperformed with energy and skill
carpe diemLatinseize the dayMade 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 bewareItem sold as seen, caveat emptor
chutzpahYiddishgall, audacity
cojonesSpanishtesticles, balls, guts
cordon bleuFrenchfood cooked to high standard (French “blue ribbon”)
corpus delectiLatinevidence required to prove a crime has been committed
coup de graceFrenchblow 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, 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 terribleFrenchbad child
en masseFrenchin a large groupThe crowd voted with their feet and left en masse.
ersatzGermansubstitute
fait accompliFrenchestablished factlosing the vote for president was a fait accompli.
fata morganaItalianstriking mirage
fatwaArabiclegal 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 Russianopenness (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 parentisLatinguardian, in place of 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 attackA rare Japanese common foreign words used in English!
karaokeJapanessinging to backing track (Japanese “empty orchestra”)
kitschGermarubbish, 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, nacceptable person. “Sally was a persona non grata in our club because she wouldn’t follow the rules.”Joe was persona non grata at the meeting because he didn’t follow procedure.
ce de résistanceFrenchhighlight, special dish
poltergeistGermanghost moving objects around or causing loud noises (German “noisy ghost”)
prima donnaLatina temperamental and conceited personSophie found it hard to make friends because she was considered to a prima donna
prima facieLatinat first view
pro bonoLatindonated or done without chargeThe 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
quid pro quoLatinsomething for something else, often a fair exchange, sometimes used in sexual harassment casesRon 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
safariSwahilijourney, expedition
salaamArabicpeace
sang froidFrenchcold blood
savoir-faireFrenchknowledge of what to do
schadenfreudeGermanpleasure at someone’s misfortune
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 conditionHannah didn’t like change and preferred to maintain the status quo.
tempus fugitLatintime flies
tête-à-têteFrenchprivate conversation (French “head to head”)
tour de forceFrenchfeat of strength
tsunamiJapaneselarge tidal wave (Japanese “harbor wave”)
uber / überGermanvery, max, possessing property to an extreme (German “over”)
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

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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