Et Voila! Voici Les French Loanwords

Monday, June 273 min read

Parlez-vous français? If you answered “yes” to that question, you speak French (at least a little). If you didn’t have an answer, don’t worry, you actually still speak a bit of French — and we’ll explain why. The English language is made up of many other languages, and some words, called “loanwords,” are borrowed straight from the source. Let’s take a look at some French loanwords and prove that every English speaker is a part-time French speaker, too.


This word for the operating or flying of an aircraft was coined by the French aviation pioneer Guillaume Joseph Gabriel de La Landelle in his 1863 book Aviation ou Navigation aérienne. He used the Latin stem avis, meaning “bird,” to describe the act of manmade flight.


Today, a “bribe” is an offer (usually monetary) to influence the outcome of a situation. It comes from the Old French word bribe which was a morsel of bread given to beggars in the Middle Ages. It was derived from the verb briber, meaning “to beg.” In the late 14th century, it retained a new meaning, closer to its modern one: “a thing stolen.”


A favorite at black-tie affairs parties and brunch, champagne is a white sparkling wine that can only come from the Champagne region (a former province in the northeast of the country) of France. Originally, the term was used to describe ANY wine made in the region, but by the late 18th century, it was reserved for only the sparkling varietals. The French word champagne literally translates to “open country.”

“Gallery” was borrowed from the Old French term galerie in the mid-15th century when its meaning changed slightly. In French, a “galerie” was a long portico (a covered porch leading to the entrance of a building). Its modern use, as a home for fine art, was first recorded in the 1590s.


The modern usage of “hotel” (as an inn or guest house) has only been in use since around 1765. Before this, “hotel” described a large residence. It got this definition directly from its French version, hôtel, which used to mean “mansion, palace, large house.” It stems from Old French ostel, which meant “lodging” (and where the English “hostel” came from). Today, the modern French word hôtel has the same meaning as the English “hotel.”


Money may be a universal language, but “monie” appeared in mid-13th century English as a broad term for anything that was convertible into funds. It came directly from the Old French monoie, which retained the same meaning (coins or currency). Much of the Old French language has Latin roots, and “money” is no different. In Latin, a moneta  was a mint (a place where money is coined), named after Moneta, the surname of the Roman goddess, Juno.

The Navy, the branch of the armed forces that conducts operations at sea, got its name directly from the Old French term navie, meaning “a fleet of ships.” It’s been used in English since the mid-14th century and has retained its meaning for centuries. The color “navy blue” got its name from the dark blue uniforms worn by the British Royal Navy since the mid-16th century..


This word comes from the Old French restorer, meaning “restore or refresh.” In the 1760s a Frenchman named Boulanger became famous for opening a shop near the Louvre and selling restaurants or bouillons restaurant, meat-based broth soups intended to “restore” a person’s strength. In perhaps the best restaurant marketing tactic, it has been in use in English since 1821 after it was borrowed from the modern French restaurant,” which meant, in general, “food that restores.” By the 1870s, “restaurant cars” were popular on passenger trains, and by 1925, ristorante was seen in Italian, as well. The restorative word is now found in the culinary lexicon across the world.


To “sabotage” is to destroy or damage something, usually for political or personal gain. It was directly borrowed from the French word of the same spelling in 1907. In the French language, the word has a far more interesting history. It came from sabator which literally translates to “walking noisily,” from sabot, which is a wooden shoe.


Today, competitive folks can enter tournaments in everything from basketball to air guitar. The word “tournament” describes a series of contests in a game or sport. Back in the Middle Ages, a tornement (from Old French) was specifically a jousting contest between knights while on horseback. Its modern usage in French and English (for chess, not armored knights) has been around since 1761.

Featured image credit: Mlenny/ iStock

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