common foreign words in english

Common Foreign Words A-Z

Common Foreign Words in English List

ADDucation’s list of common foreign words in English wasn’t easy to put together. English started as a Germanic language. Add a generous helping of old Norse from the Vikings. Lace it with Norman French and Latin constructions. Add thousands of words anglicized from other languages and the result is English is we know it today. “Loanwords” are words borrowed from another language and used “as is”. Whether your audience will understand the meaning of common foreign words is up to you. Foreign phrases in English are often italicized so they are easier to spot.

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Common foreign wordsSource languageEntomology / Origin / MeaningTrivia / Comments / Usage
addendaLatin.A list of additions.
ad libLatin.Improvised.One of the most common foreign words.
ad hocLatin.For a particular purpose.
ad infinitumLatin.To infinity.
à la carteFrench.From the menu.
ad nauseamLatin.To the point of nausea, to a sickening degree.Trevor talked ad nauseam about his career.
addendaLatin.A list of additions.
aficionadoSpanish.An ardent fan.
agent provocateurFrench.Agent who incites others to illegal action.
alcohol
Arabic.Originally “al-kuḥl” ancient Egyptian eyeliner, later any fine powder or distilled spirit or essence.Alcoholic beverages include beers, wines and spirits.
alfrescoItalian.Fresh air, outdoors.
alma materLatin.Former school (Latin “bountiful mother”).
alter egoLatin.Second self.
angstGerman.Dread, anxiety.
ars gratia artisLatin.Art for art’s sake.
au faitFrench.Familiar with something (French “to the point”).
au naturelFrench.Natural state, naked.
avant-gardeFrench.Unorthodox, experimental (French “front guard”).
avatar
Hindi.Icon or representation of a person online.You can often change your avatar on websites and in computer games.
baksheeshPersian.Tip (Persian “gift”).
balletFrench.Form of dance. From earlier latin ballare “to dance”.French is the language of ballet, e.g. tutu and ballerina.
bete noireFrench.Personal annoyance, bugbear (French “black beast”).
blitzkriegGerman.Sudden overwhelming attack (German “lightning war”).
bon appétitFrench.Enjoy your meal (French “good appetite).One of the most common foreign words in English, probably because we don’t have an English equivalent.
bon vivantFrench.Lover of good life.
bon voyageFrench.Have a nice trip.We wished Natasha bon voyage as she left to go traveling.
bona fideLatin.In good faith, genuine.John’s doctor was a bona fide expert in dementia.
bravuraItalian.Performed with energy and skill.
cafeFrench.From coffee in many languages, one of the most common foreign words.Cafés usually serve coffee.
carpe diemLatin.Seize the day.Made famous by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society.
carpe noctem
Latin.Seize the night (this is not really in very common usage, but we loved the concept of seizing the night instead of the day!).
carte blancheFrench.Complete freedom, unlimited authority (French “white card”).Ron was given carte blanche to choose a new truck.
sus belliLatin.Pretext or reason that justifies or allegedly justifies an attack of war.
caveat emptorLatin.Let the buyer beware.Item sold as seen, caveat emptor.
chutzpahYiddish.Gall, audacity.
cojonesSpanish.Testicles, balls, guts.
cordon bleuFrench.Food cooked to high standard (French “blue ribbon”).
corpus delectiLatin.The evidence required to prove a crime has been committed.
coup de graceFrench.A blow of mercy.
cul-de-sacFrench.Dead end (French “bottom of the sack”).
de factoFrench.Actual.
de rigueurFrench.Obligatory.
déjà vuFrench.Sense of having already experienced something (French “already seen”).
derrièreFrench.Behind, bum, bottom, buttocks.
deus ex machineLatin.God of the machine.
doppelgängerGerman.Ghostly counterpart of a living person (German “double-goer”).
double entendreFrench.Double meaning.
droit du seigneurFrench.Excessive demands on subordinate. Literally “the lord’s right” to take the virginity of a new bride.
élan French.Flair.
enfant terribleFrench.A bad child.
en masseFrench.In a large group.The crowd voted with their feet and left en masse.
entrepreneurFrench.Businessman. From 19th century “entreprendre”, a director of a musical institution.Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are famous entrepreneurs.
ersatzGerman.A substitute.
fait accompliFrench.An established fact.losing the vote for president was a fait accompli.
fata morganaItalian.A striking mirage.
fatwaArabic.A legal opinion expressed by Islamic leader.
faux pasFrench.Breach of social etiquette, social blunder (French “false step”).Wearing a long white dress as a wedding guest was a faux pas.
femme fataleFrench.Highly attractive woman who means trouble.
fiascoItalian.Disaster.
force de frappeFrench.France’s nuclear deterrent (French “superiour force”).
gauntlet / gantletSwedish.Swedish (gatlopp “lane course running”). The pronunciation in English was corrupted to “gauntlet” (French gantelet “armored glove”).Running the gauntlet (UK) or gantlet (US) was a form of punishment where the victim was forced to run between two rows of torturers. “Throw down the gauntlet” is to issue a challenge and “take up the gauntlet” accepts the challenge.
gemütlichGerman.Cosy.
gestalt German.Form, shape.
gesundheit German.Health, bless you.
glasnost Russian.Ppenness (Russian “publicity”).
glitchYiddish.A minor fault, bug, gremlin etc. (Yiddish “gletshn” to slide or skid) or (German “glitschen” to slip).Neo experienced déjà vu as “a glitch in the matrix” when he saw the same black cat walk past a door twice.
grand mal French.Epilepsy attack (French “large illness”).
gringo Spanish.Foreigner (mainly Mexican).
gung-hoChinese.Enthusiasm, zealous (Chinese “work together”)Adopted as a battle cry by some military units.
guru Hindi.Spiritual leader.
habeas corpusLatin.(Latin “You should have the body”) protection against unlawful imprisonment.
halal Arabic.Meat slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law (Arabic “lawful”).
hoi polloiGreek.Rabble.
in flagrante delictoLatin.Caught in the act (Latin “with the crime still blazing”).
in loco parentisLatin.A guardian, in place of a parent.
in vino veritasLatin.Truth is in wine.
ipso factoLatin.By 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 vivreFrench.Joy of life.
kamikazeJapanese.Suicidal attack.A rare Japanese common foreign words used in English!
karaokeJapanese.Singing to a backing track (Japanese “empty orchestra”).
kitschGerman.Rubbish, bad taste.
la dolce vitaItalian.The good life.
laissez faireFrench.Policy of non interference.
leitmotivGerman.Recurrent theme.
lingua francaItalian.Common language.
machoSpanish.Arrogant masculine man (Spanish/Portuguese machismo “manly”).Randy Savage and the Village People spring to mind.
mea culpaLatin.My fault.
modus operandiLatin.Method of procedure, method of operating (commonly abbreviated to M.O.).The suspect followed the same M.O.
mopedSwedish.(Swedish motor och pedaler “pedal cycle with engine and wheels” )One of only a handful of common foreign words from Swedish.
noblesse obligeFrench.Nobility obliges.
nom de plumeFrench.Pen name.Commonly used by writers to preserve their anonymity.
non sequiturLatin.Something that doesn’t follow on logically.
persona non grataLatin.Unwelcome or unacceptable person.Sally was a persona non grata in our club because she wouldn’t follow the rules.
ce de résistanceFrench.Jighlight, special dish.
poltergeistGerman.A ghost that moves objects around or causes loud noises (German “noisy ghost”).
prima donnaLatin.A temperamental and conceited person.Sophie found it hard to make friends because she was considered to a prima donna
prima facieLatin.At first view.
pro bonoLatin.Donated or done without charge.The lawyer took the case on a pro bono basis.
pro formaLatin.Done for the sake of form.
pro rataLatin.Proportionally according to a factor.
pro temporeLatin.For the time being.
punchHindi.Originally “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
Hindi.An expert, critic or commentator on a specific subject.Punditry, by pundits, analyze sports, express opinions in the media, critique theater, food etc.
quid pro quoLatin.Something 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 demonstratumLatin.As demonstrated (“Q.E.D.”).
raison d’être
French.Reason for being.
rendezvousFrench.Agree to meet, meeting.
safariSwahili.A journey, expedition.
saffron
Arabic.A 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.
salaamArabic.Peace from (al)-salām.Salaam alei·kum “peace be upon you” is a greeting used by Muslims.
sang froidFrench.Cold blood.
savoir-faireFrench.Knowledge of what to do.
schadenfreudeGerman.Taking pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.
shampoo
Hindi.Massage, rub (Hindustani “chāmpo” to press).Humans, animals, cars and furniture can all be shampooed.
sine qua nonLatin.Indispensable (Latin “without which not”).
smorgasbordSwedish.Sandwich or buffet with variety of dishes or situation with many choices.See also moped and gauntlet.
soupçonFrench.Hint of (French “suspicion”).
status quoLatin.Existing state or condition.Hannah didn’t like change and preferred to maintain the status quo.
tempus fugitLatin.Time flies.
tête-à-têteFrench.A private conversation (French “head to head”).
tour de forceFrench.A feat of strength.
tsunamiJapanese.A large tidal wave (Japanese “harbor wave”).
uber / überGerman.Very, max, possessing property to an extreme (German “over”).Now also a taxi company and rapidly becoming on the most common foreign words used as a brand.
vendettaItalian.Private revenge feud among families of murdered persons.
veni, vidi, viciLatin.I came, I saw, I conquered.
verbotenGerman.Forbidden.
vis-à-visFrench.As compared with.
weltschmerzGerman.Anguish over the world’s evils.
wunderkindGerman.Boy wonder, someone succeeding at an early age (German “wonder child”).
zeitgeistGerman.Spirit 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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This common foreign words used in English list was compiled by A C, last updated September 3, 2019.
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