6 Foreign Expressions You Should Know

By Daniel Scocco

Whether you like it or not, foreign expressions represent an integral part of the English language (and of many other languages, too). Knowing the meaning and usage of the most used ones is very important. First of all because it will enable you to understand pieces of text that include them. Secondly, because you might also need to use those expressions on particular situations (avoid using them just to sound smart though). Below you will find 6 foreign expressions commonly used in English, enjoy!

1. De Facto

De facto is a Latin expression that means “actual” (if used as an adjective) or “in practice” (if used as an adverb). In legal terms, de facto is commonly used in contrast to de jure, which means “by law.” Something, therefore, can emerge either de facto (by practice) or de jure (by law).

And what of the plastic red bench, which has served as his de facto home for the last 15 years and must by now be a collector’s item? (NY Times)

2. Vis-à-Vis

The literal meaning of this French expression is “face to face” (used as an adverb). It is used more widely as a preposition though, meaning “compared with” or “in relation to.”

It’s going to be a huge catalyst in moving the whole process forward and it really strengthens the U.S. position vis-a-vis our trading partners (Yahoo! News)

3. Status quo

This famous Latin expression means “the current or existing state of affairs.” If something changes the status quo, it is changing the way things presently are.

Bush believes that the status quo — the presence in a sovereign country of a militant group with missiles capable of hitting a U.S. ally — is unacceptable. (Washington Post)

4. Cul-de-sac

This expression was originated in England by French-speaking aristocrats. Literally it means “bottom of a sack,” but generally it refers to a dead-end street. Cul-de-sac can also be used metaphorically to express an action that leads to nowhere or an impasse.

But the code of omerta was in effect for two carloads of fans circling the cul-de-sac to have a look at the house. (Reuters.com)

A cul-de-sac of poverty (The Economist)

5. Per se

Per se is a Latin expression that means “by itself” or “intrinsically.”

The mistake it made with the Xbox is that there is no game console market per se; there are PlayStation, GameCube, and Xbox markets. (PCMag.com)

6. Ad hoc

Ad hoc, borrowed from the Latin, can be used both as an adjective, where it means “formed or created with a specific purpose,” and as an adverb, where it means “for the specific purpose or situation.”

The World Bank’s board on Friday ordered an ad hoc group to discuss the fate of President Paul Wolfowitz (CNN)

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128 Responses to “6 Foreign Expressions You Should Know”

  • Francesco

    I knew 3 out of the 6.

    Good one.

  • Wayne

    I’ve always wondered what “sic” means? Why and how is used properly? BTW – love the site, great idea!

  • Daniel

    Wayne,

    People often use SIC to highlight an error on quotes.

    Example:

    The NY Times article described “the new phenomenom [sic]” in the city.

  • HH

    grate article, very original and informative

  • Laura

    I saw your comment on ProBlogger and followed it here to find your site. What a treat! As a writer I am always looking for new writing sites. This is a great list, by the way.

  • inspirationbit

    This is a very interesting list, although it’s not complete. There are many other foreign expressions that people should integrate into their vocabulary more often. Expressions like: “Cogito ergo sum”, “veni, vidi, vici”, “tete-a-tete”, “carpe diem”, etc. The more the better 🙂

    Actually, we should all start learning Latin again 🙂

  • Daniel

    Yeah there are many others that could be included. I tried to focus on the ones that are “non-trivial” and widely used around newspapers.

    “veni, vidi, vici” is for sure a nice latin phrase. But I think you would use it only if you are writing about ancient rome :).

  • 60 in 3

    I see Carpe Diem relatively frequently, but the others only come up when I’m playing Rome:Total War (A video game) 🙂

    Thank you for the article though, it was very enlightening. Turns out I’ve been vis-a-vis incorrectly all this time.

    Now how about enlightening us on the mysteries of a more common language, like English? For example, for non native English speakers like myself, what the heck is the difference between effect and affect?

    Gal

  • Mr_Bill

    Cul-de-sac

    This expression was originated in England by French-speaking aristocrats. Literally it means “bottom of a sack,” but generally it refers to a dead-end street. Cul-de-sac can also be used metaphorically to express an action that leads to nowhere or an impasse.

    I had no idea it meant bottom of a sack

  • Daniel

    60 in 3, I will cover effect and affect on a “ad hoc” post.

    You can also read the comments over this post where some people already discussed about it:
    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/do-you-accept-my-complement/

  • Grant

    60 in 3, There’s a pretty comprehensive site with a bunch of these “similar word pairs” here:

    http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html

  • Conor

    Nice article, you should do a follow up.

  • yoshi

    Interesting.
    I didn’t know “cul-de-sac”.

  • Dave

    @Gal:

    The difference between affect and effect is pretty subtle, and native english speakers get it wrong all the time.

    My understanding is that that “affect” is a verb while “effect” is a noun. See the following examples:

    “The lighting in the presentation had a strong effect.”

    versus

    “That scene in the film did not affect me.”

    I think you’ll often see “affect” used more in situations that deal with emotions. Notice the same kind of difference between:

    “The attack was effective” and “My girlfriend is affectionate.”

  • tv shos

    I knew most of them meant, but not the literal origins.

  • bumpy

    Dave, either “affect” or “effect” can be used as either a noun or a verb.

    “Affect” as a noun means “emotion”.

    “Affect” as a verb means “to influence”.

    “Effect” as a noun means “a result”.

    “Effect” as a verb means “to accomplish”.

  • Weip

    Bottom of a sack is the english translation word for word of cul-de-sac. But when we say that in french, yes it means dead-end street.

    I think you guys use french’s expressions like “Déjà-vu”, and “Rendez-vous”. Im i wrong?

    You should all speak french ^^.

  • totof022

    I knew them all…
    … But no glory about it!

    I am a native french speaker and studied latin (among french, german end english) in high school.

    BTW. cul de sac literally does not mean “bottom of bag” but “ass of bag” (cul means ass ant sack means bag…

    Mabe you americans and brits should invest some time and energy into (really) learning a different language (you know, what ROW speaks).This knowledge would help you better understang community around you and/hopefully) stop playing such an unrealistic and endless role into most of the wars in the world now….

  • 60 in 3

    Bumpy, Dave, Daniel and Grant,
    Thank you for your tips. Will read them through and see if I can make sense of them all. And Daniel, thank you for the joke 🙂

    Gal

  • Dave

    *scratches Cul-de-Sac*

  • subcorpus

    i haven’t heard of number four before …

  • Daniel

    Back to the [sic] comment.

    It is to show a quote in its orignal form. What i mean is including spelling mistakes and gramitcal errors. A stand quote won’t include a [sic] if it is grammitccally correct.

    Ripped from Wikipedia

    The word sic may be used either to show that an uncommon or archaic usage is reported faithfully: for instance, quoting the U.S. Constitution:

    The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker…

    or to highlight an error, often for the purpose of ridicule or irony, as in this example:

    Warehouse has been around for 30 years and has 263 stores, suggesting a large fan base. The chain sums up its appeal thus: “styley [sic], confident, sexy, glamorous, edgy, clean and individual, with it’s [sic] finger on the fashion pulse

  • Wayne

    I think I have it – It’s used to show the writer isn’t the one making the mistake and it can also be a mistake that was done on purpose? Thanks!

  • 654654

    why not just learn proper english? lazy fks

  • Miraa

    Thought I’d share another one for you, as I was curious and just looked it up: ergo: (air-go)conj. Latin for “therefore,” often used in legal writings. Its most famous use was in Cogito, ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am” principle by French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650).

  • ricket

    Bumpy is right, but it should probably be said that there are stress and pronunciation differences between the verb and noun counterparts of affect.

    affect (2nd syllable stress uh-fect) = verb
    The price of gas affects travel.

    affect (1st syllable stress aa-fect : same “a” sound as in “at”) = noun
    She has a weird affect.

  • Jason

    Actually, [sic] means “said in context”. It basically means that you are quoting someone who made an error, for example: “They misunderestimated [sic] me”, said Bush…

  • Cody

    In addendum to the [sic] comments, It’s not only used to show grammatical errors, but used in a general term to mean that the spelling or information provided is correct and not a typo.

    Say there is a man who has 250 cars was interviewed because he witnessed a crime… The 250 cars may be referenced but since it is not a main part of the article it may be thought of as a typo. [sic] may be used in such a situation to reaffirm that the stated information is not a typo.

    “John Doe, a Local man and owner of 250 [sic] cars himself witnessed the crime”

    This is a bad example, but you get the idea. [sic] simply means that something which might appear to be a writers error is intended to be as written and is not a typo.

  • Matt

    This is good reading for all who plan to visit these countries…. better know what you might be saying without even trying to.

  • Dan Birchall

    6 is far too few. While I agree that one should know, inter alia, those listed above, I think a better list would be hundreds long.

  • ADregely

    RE: Vis-à-Vis.. I think you believe the word “Vis” should mean visage(face). However, the word “vis” means screw(the drywall type).

  • Mariecordona

    Umm…

    Since when is a dead end street a cul de sac? Last time I checked, a dead end street was exactly that. A dead end. Meaning, you go along until the road doesn’t connect to any other streets and terminates in someone’s yard or something of that nature. You’re forced to turn around in the nearest driveway, once you’ve realized your mistake. A cul de sac is also a road that doesn’t connect to another street, but instead of it just ending without any notice, there’s a round turn-around at the end. Similar to the shape of a needle, but more like “the bottom of a sack”. Duh!

  • Daniel

    ADregely, I did not say “vis” means face in French.

    Vis-à-vis, though, should mean face to face, which is what I wrote.

  • Kinjal

    Its nice to see this list, but it would also be helpful if the pronounciation of these words/phrases was mentioned. for example, vis-a-vis is pronounces we-a-we (or am i wrong?)

  • Leonid Mamchenkov

    I see “c’est la vie” (“such is life”) used a lot, but then again I am almost in Europe. 🙂

  • Claudio

    Humm, perhaps I’m wrong, but the “cul” in “cul-de-sac” is kind of a slang, means “asshole”. I’m not a latin student, but portuguese is my first language, and we have the word “cu” for “asshole”.

  • Joseph

    Erm…ad hoc means “NOT specific”. An ad hoc group doing things ad hoc is actually a bunch of random people doing some things with no real plan.

  • Daniel

    @Claudio, “cul-de-sac” has nothing to do with “asshole.” It comes from the French, not from the Latin… and while “cul” do stand for “ass” the expression has a complete different meaning.

    @Joseph, I also believe your definition for “ad hoc” is wrong. What source did you use to verify that?

    Check the Wikipedia entry for that:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hoc

  • felia

    In my experience Ad hoc is more frequently used in its other sense, of something improvised, created on the apur of the moment.

    Vis-à-vis also means accross, like in “the coffee shop is vis-à-vis the bank”.

  • acrobat

    [sic], funny i’ve always thought it stood only for “same in context” – which is, i guess, a good way to remember what it means.
    Anyone knows if it is used in other written languages?

  • Daniel

    I am also in doubt regarding SIC now. The usage is clear, but I am not sure if it really comes from the Latin sic or if it is an acronym as people mentioned. I will research about it.

  • abuelo

    As far as I know, sic is used in other languages as well and it comes from the Latin sic, meaning ‘so’ or ‘like that’.
    Same sic appears in the Latin proverb: Sic transit gloria mundi – So passes the glory of the World.

    Great article Daniel, here are my suggestions for the sequel: nota bene, circa, enfant terrible, faux pas and of course menage a trois. 😉

  • Jim

    “sic” means “this is how the dumb idiot we’re quoting put it, it’s not a typographical error on our part”.

  • Heidi

    I agree with you Jim. I studied Latin a long time ago and teach English at present (and use proofreading symbols). “Sic” means “so” or “as” in Latin, and when used in proofing means “as written.”

  • Cody

    Also forgotten:

    “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.”

  • Daniel

    Cody, yeah I think I’ve read that on the Wall Street Journal the other day 😉

  • Motorcycle Guy

    ha there was a kid at my highschool who always used per se wrong basically just attaching it to everyother word.

  • Ryke

    The very, very litteral meaning of cul-de-sac would actually be the ass of a sack, but it’s become such a normal expression, no one, even in France, really considers “ass” being vulgar in that context.

  • Sandra or Galaxyline

    This site is cute. The responses varied, yet telling.

    Many of the words presented here today are (or used to be) the mainstay (aha backbone) of my profession, withholding of course, what that profession was!

    Certain words excite me. I wonder if this group has any words that just seem to dazzle them when they hear them spoken?

    One particular word I love is “Synecdoche’s.” Another is “Soliloquy.” I have so many more that I love…

    Do any of you have words you love?

    Thanks for such a gleeful and refreshing board.

  • kiuka

    ryke
    neither in catalunya, spain, where we speak catalan. the words mean the same in catalan other in french, dought does two languages are very close.

  • Ree

    I believe the issue with cul-de-sac might be solved by looking at the word cul. It can mean kill, ass, bottom. All of these words can be replaced by the word END. I think the original translation would have been END which can relate to killing: end life, one’s ass= one’s end. And the end or bottom of the sac. Just a supposition but I think this may be feesable.

  • xing

    these words can be commonly found on articles related to law as to the rules and some bills. i have encountered these six words from high school and mostly in college years. they are more likely to be tricky in some times for those who never come across these foreign words.

  • DavidC

    Try ‘Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebelum’.
    Or, ‘Ave duci nova, similis duci seneci’.
    They’re two of my favourites from early school days.
    David

  • mick

    sic is from latin meaning “as it was”; so if there was a spelling mistake in quote in an article, the writer would add [sic] after it to show that was the original spelling

  • Jon

    Another might be vice versa…

  • Pavel Bastov

    I really this kind of posts (I read similar one at Copyblogger’s). They are essential for non-natives trying to maintain a quality blog.

    Thanks so much.

    P.S.
    I met Carpe Diem here. It roughly means “seize the day”.

  • oscillate

    Knew each and every one of those.

    How wonderful for stuff to happen.

  • davidc

    An oldy but goody was ‘Carpe jugulum’, or go for the throat.

  • desfossez thomas

    I’m french and i use also :

    “De Visu” : “I want see it de visu” (with my eyes) -Latin-

  • Kain

    For Ad Hoc- MS Word thesaurus has unplanned, informal, impromptu, improvised, off the cuff etc for ad hoc- quiet the opposite. I’m not sure which is correct but Word being so popular most people are likely to beleive it. its odd that a word could be known and used with an opposite meaning rather than a similar one….

  • Benita

    HE,,HE…

  • Daniel Nordstrom

    Nice list, very useful. Thank you for it! 🙂

  • El Gigante Verdoso

    Useful list. Another quite usual expression is “ipso facto” thta means something like “right now” 😀

  • Dave

    I think the confusion about ad hoc is that it usually refers to a short term scenario. An ad hoc commission might be formed on short notice to address a single issue and then dissolved, as opposed to a standing committee that deals with an ongoing set of issues. It gives a sense of being impromptu, but that specific purpose or situation is still what defines the phrase.

  • nova

    i know 5 out of the 6..

  • frl

    Ad hoc means “to this” “for this” (translating latin – my language, then my language – english, not really elegant). I like Word’s explanations. Vis-à-vis’ meaning as an expression (it has “-” between the words, therefore is not ment litterally I would say) was explained above.

    Interesting site, a bit more research would not hurt, though. There are free Latin dictionaries on the web.

  • Daniel

    frl, it is quite difficult to follow your line of though.

    Anyway the literal translation of some Latin words and expressions is of no use when it comes to their usage within the English language.

    Interesting comment, but a bit more research would not hurt 🙂 .

  • Brad K.

    Thanks for this particular list. As you point out, these phrases are similar in frequency of usage, and similar also in the kinds of material where they are found. Other phrases would have great value, if added to this article, yet would change the concept which lumped these not-quite-randomly-selected phrases together. Besides, covering other phrases leaves room for other articles.

    I find the explanation for ‘ad hoc’ to be subtly different than the context I usually associate with the phrase.

    And ad hoc committee is certainly a frequent usage. But I think of ad hoc as being the opposite of well planned. Committees are usually designed, budgeted, apportioned and assigned at the start of a term for an organization. An ad hoc committee would be formed *outside* this planning process. So, yes, ‘purpose built’ could apply, from one perspective, but purpose built sounds similar to having skilled craftsmen custom build a display case. In the latter case, the result is specially crafted, tailored, and produced to meet a specific and exacting need.

    I usually think of ad hoc as ‘this was handy’ type construction, that the first thing that kind of worked was put into use, with little planning, whatever craftsmanship that happened to be applied was what was available, rather than what was specified. Ad hoc implies there was no specification or agreed upon plan. “He kicked through the wall, and ducked out the ad hoc exit.”

    Similar to ‘jerry rigged’, ad hoc means, to me, ‘made do’. Ad hoc describes the process of forming the committee, and might imply the possibility of impaired function due to limited planning in establishing the committee. Outside using ‘ad hoc’ to describe committees, I find ad hoc also describes how a process or procedure came to be applied – someone thought it might be a good enough idea at the time. The opposite of ad hoc would be planned, reviewed, and with consensus.

  • Brad K.

    Oops! Instead of “Outside using “, I meant “Aside from using”

  • steve

    At first I was suprised that these six “foriegn” words or phrases needed explanation, they are in common usage in England and they are in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) having been subsumed into English.

    Then I read the many comments and realised that this site is primarily used by Americans and others for whom English is not their first language (you may read the conjuction however you wish) and I would like to commend you on knowing your audience and on the clarity of your explanation (except for sic – the explanation there was very poor – Jim, comment 47, explained it the best).

  • Richa

    Daily Writing Tips Vocabulary Test 1
    Posted: 31 Oct 2007 10:04 AM CDT

    Different from, Different to, Different than

    I was wondering if i can be indifferent to someone (in the sense of lack of interest ), can I say I am different to someone to mean the opposite?

  • Marta

    I resd this tekst, i think it’s realy interesting and worth reading

  • sridevi

    Can Bid-Adieu be added to the list?

  • edy purwaka

    cul de sac = dead end street

    a few years ago, there was indonesian movie called kuldesak, i believe person who give title to that movie was inspired by the word cul de sac.

    To be honest, for me the ” cul de sac” idiom is new for me. In order to widen our knowledge,it is better if daillywritingtips could update foreigh expression regularly.

    many thanks

    i gede

  • Sarah

    I’ve just joined this sight I enjoyed the Yidish words,grammer and now the foriegn words. I want to thank the author. I plan to study more. I will only post this one time though. I want to know why do so many people spend so much time typing away and often saying negative things about and to people. they must be sooooooooo loooooooooooonely.
    I admit it is difficult not to read some of them after your writing/lessons but I don’t enjoy it. Most of them at least, it is like watching a car wreck. So I will just finish by saying; yes, I’m writing this once, but please most of you leave your computer! Get a life. Make some friends.

  • mels

    “Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebelum”

    heh. sadly, i’m a chick.

    kinjal, that is very not how you pronounce it. it’s vees-a-vee – basically how it looks. usually the esses are silent in french but the first one here is special because it’s in front of a vowel.

    also, to whoever made the dumb remark about how we should just learn proper english instead… that’s pretty ignorant. a lot of these phrases don’t have an exact analogue in english, which is why people use them. it’s not to sound pretentious, it’s to get the point across better.

    one of my favourites is l’esprit de l’escalier (i don’t know how to do accents in this text box). it refers to that moment when you’re walking away from a conversation and you suddenly think of the devastatingly clever and witty comment you should have made several minutes ago when, instead, you responded by looking at your feet and mumbling something lame.

  • Rob kenny

    I always thought sic mean’t spelt in context

  • Han Dingchao

    Very useful! I will try to use them in my blog some day. Very interesting. I think they will improve my writing skill. Thank you very much!

    Sincerely,
    Dingchao

  • SaltyDawg

    Should these foreign phrases be italicized?

  • Abi

    Thanks for useful info about expressions!

  • mario

    i wanna improve my english in both oral and writing

  • singgih

    plaese help me i was learning speaking english……
    i believe if often that articel can easly understanding language english

  • singgih

    i believe Ahmad Dani from DEWA band was inspired by the word cul de sac in his song that title kuldesak, i think he not creative!

  • amer

    i wont improv my writing

  • Sameer

    Hmmm…

    I thought per se meant as such….

    And yeah…there’s one more popular one called C’est la vie…meaning that’s life.

  • Hussain Shah

    It is informative and mostly these foreign expressions were found in newspapers which were very confusing.

  • Rahba

    YES ! I THINK SO THIS IS THE GREAT WAY WILL BE , WE CAN DO IMPROVE OUR WRITING ENGLISH BUT SOME TIMES MAKE TO AS SOME PROBLMES LIKE THAT . IF WE WANT TO WRITING SOME THINGS DURING THE WRITING WE FORGET SOME THINGS THEN IT MAKE OUR SELF SO MUCH UNHAPPY , BECAUSE OF THINKIG MUCH ABOUT IT UNTIL WE CAN REMEMBER THEM AGINE ADN AGINGE . SO I DO WISH I BE FACE WITH MUCH POLIT PEOPLE IN THE WORLD OF ENGILSH LEARNING .

  • Peter

    Jason: Actually, [sic] means “said in context”. It basically means that you are quoting someone who made an error, for example: “They misunderestimated [sic] me”, said Bush…

    Folk etymology. (meaning not true). I’ve never heard that one before.

    ADegely: Vis-à-Vis.. I think you believe the word “Vis” should mean visage(face). However, the word “vis” means screw(the drywall type).

    You should note that most French terms used in English are medieval, not modern; it really does mean “face”.

    felia: Vis-à-vis also means across, like in “the coffee shop is vis-à-vis the bank”.

    It’s the same meaning. If the coffee shop is across from the bank, it’s “face to face” with the bank; though I think you’d have to say “vis-à-vis TO the bank”. It can also be used as a noun (or maybe it’s a substantive adjective)

    ElGigante Verdoso: Useful list. Another quite usual expression is “ipso facto” thta means something like “right now”

    It means “by that fact itself”, or “by that very fact”.

    Daniel: Anyway the literal translation of some Latin words and expressions is of no use when it comes to their usage within the English language.

    Example?

    Richa: I was wondering if i can be indifferent to someone (in the sense of lack of interest ), can I say I am different to someone to mean the opposite?

    No.

  • brenda

    great….i need to practice my english.

  • ILP

    I learned something. Cul-de-Sac.
    Thanks.

  • OneNightStanzas

    Found this through Dumb Little Man – really interesting piece.
    I knew how/where to use all 6 of these, but I didn’t know where they came from or their “meanings,” as it were. I never knew ‘cul-de-sac’ translates literally as ‘bottom of a sack,’ for example. Really interesting.

    I use “ibid.” a lot. Again, I know how/where to use it but I have no idea how it came to be used or what it means. I assume it’s from Latin – anyone know?

    and @ SaltyDawg… I think there is a rule about italics. It depends how “naturalised” a foreign phrase as become in the English language. I don’t think you’d italicise “c’est la vie” or “ad hoc,” but you probably would with “per se” (it seems to lend itself to italics just for emphasis anyway) and “vis-a-vis.” Interesting question. Is there a rule, anyone?

  • raheleh mehrrafiei

    I really didn’t know them
    they were good to know thank you very much

  • joseph rogers

    The subject above was very interesting because, ive never heard some of these words, or have heard them and didnt know what they meant. it related to ch. 1 because ch.1 talked about how english comes from many different languages and some of the difficulties people have from learing it as a second language.

  • Mario R.

    well i think the subject was very very very interesting because i have never heard of words like. but they were very interesting and weird so thats all i got to say about that.

  • Nick Imhoff

    This article was related to chapter 1 because it is telling you how to communicate across cultures. It expresses how important it is to not use foreign expressions if your audience is not suited for it. The article says not use such foreign expressions to sound smart because it will only make you sound foolish. This article is just another you can communicate across cultures depending on your audience.

  • SuccessfulWebWomen

    Interesting list.

    It’s a big advantage speaking different languages and knowing as non-English Native Speaker immediately what is meant.

    Funny enough: We use in German all these expressions except “cul de sac”

    Have fun and success
    Yani

  • AltMichael

    Let me make my educated attempt at “affect” and “effect”.

    As a verb:
    “affect” means to have an influence on something; to change it
    “effect” means to bring something into being
    Some languages use different tenses for affected objects and effected objects.

    As a noun:
    The nominalization of both “affect” and “effect” is “effect”, which is very confusing.
    “Affect” as a noun has the additional meanings stated above.

    And to agree with a previous poster, I have always heard “cul-de-sac” to refer to a dead end street with a rounded end, there usually being at least 3 houses on the rounded part.

    Here’s a foreign expression I love, “That wants to be a ” for something that’s not up to standards. It comes from German. I’ve never heard it used in English.

  • az

    I always thought cul-de-sac meant no entry. I didn’t know it meant dead end. I am so glad I know what it means.

  • Chuck R.

    I agree with those who think the list is a great start but a bit short.

    Off the top of my head, I’d add: raison d’etre (reason of being?) and quid pro quo (reciprocating). Any foreign version of “goodbye” has a certain panache.

    Sayonara.

  • Gaël

    One of my favorites is “Dum spiro spero”, which means “While I breathe, I hope”.
    Bye.

  • David

    I knew them all, but can only remember using ‘status quo’ or ‘per se’. Status quo when speaking, and per se when writing, why?
    Status quo is simply the best way to talk about “the way things are”, particularly in terms of conservative politics (from all sides of the spectrum, partisan fool), stopping us from the kind of progress that leaves people stupid, cruel and more destructive than any other, animal species.
    Per se is a LITTLE retarded and up yourself, but is super economical and fits nicely at the end of a sentence.
    Cul de sac, well, I would only use it in the literal – in other contexts, and the other 3 terms, are stodgy – used by pretentious, elitist people, out of touch with the times 🙂 And yes, trying not to be a fascist in terms of style and little would be gained pandering to lowest common denominators, but is the instinct to use the word not unconsciously a form of showing off, instead of elucidation.
    Sticking to the examples above:
    De Facto could be replaced by NOTHING, and the sentence is fantastic still!
    Vis-a-vis, “in relation to” would have served far better and is not some wanker, wanking.
    Ad hoc, MAYBE, but think about it – the World Bank is mercenary, as is probably any organisation “forming ad hoc groups” – it wouldn’t be exaggerated and probably far truer to say “conspired to form a group” or some such. In this case, the ad hoc is very economical (I luurve economising you can see), but it shrouds meaning, I believe. Particularly because only about 5% or less people in the English speaking world would know or understand it.
    OKAY, so you are talking to someone (writing for them), the idea of “Imperialism” is central – a term certainly, poorly understood. You would say many other things and probably even give a definition, (re the context), to help someone understand.
    Yet a term like ad hoc just isn’t worth it’s (small) weight!
    You saw that re, before the previous sentence? Another valid, economical replacement for oh so stodgiest “vis-a-vis”!
    Elitism is not all bad, but people, wake up to how using or maintaining it in language is not always so smart, necessary or even the best way to express.
    Oh, oui, the richness of French terms in the English language. Well, boring, how about we look to all the other cultures and alien languages to see what riches we could adapt for more LYRICAL, even concise, meaning.
    Bisous. (Kisses).

  • David

    PS. I ranted and even forgot to remind you of simple history – that French is such a large influence, and French terms are so common due to an Aristocratic French presence in England. The ruling classes really did engage so much with French as another way to separate themselves from the worthless, common people. English was the vulgar language – lettuce take it back!

  • Giveback

    Daniel,

    This is yet another good and useful article.
    While you are correct, I think it is also important to emphasize that “ad hoc” is used in the context of bringing across something that is unplanned. Thanks.

  • Doug

    “You should all speak french ^^.”

    Il y a beaucoup de nous qui le parlons, même ici aux Etats-Unis.

  • Peter

    @David: it’s “Persian”, not “Farsi”.

  • David

    Ha ha, Peter. I put myself RIGHT out there, open to so many criticisms – I support wildly alleging (even) without fact, proof, or even thought! That is IF it comes from a wildly intelligent place – judge whoever may.
    However, you have called me on something erroneous, and you are wrong. Of course we can call it Farsi – just because some or many Iranians insist on the idea of “Persian” as their nationality / language, does not make it a law or even a rule. You should be aware that just when you think you are asserting the will of some “progressive” idea encompassing Persia, Iran, Empire, 20thC(.com), Pre & Post Revolution, internal and/or external IMPOSITION – you are wrong! There are valid arguments, self determined and not, for and against your point.
    Most worthwhile Iranians don’t care that much, but sometimes:
    1) My head is up my bum, I don’t understand one darned thing about Imperial History, so separating it’s progressive points from the oppressive terror ain’t gonna happen, 2) Show me the money, I’m one of millions of Bourgeois Iranian Diaspora, hyper conservative cunts, campaigning against the dissolution of extreme class (up to and including royal) inequities in Iran… veiling that in easy, propagandistic slander about… veils, 3) They stole it from us, and now we’re taking it back, 4) Go home GRINGO, don’t you tell us what we want to call it! Etc. Ad nauseum 🙂
    Kisses. Farsi Baladi?

  • Susan H

    @David tanho kami farsi baladam. 🙂 I’m curious as to why so many persian words appear to derive from the french? i.e. be resturan raftam va goftam “lotfan yek shireeni, merci” (I hope that’s correct)

  • David

    Hello SUSAN. Salaam! Is it Kami, not Kam? Phonetically at least? Does transliteration (a subject I haven’t thought much about), add vowels sometimes?
    I speak less than Kam/i.
    No, I don’t speak Farsi 🙂 Sorry. I see I may have been misleading… I spoke it as a child – between mother & son, but the commonest thing, it seems, is that a child loses a language as one’s parents do not speak it between them, and as one’s racist society, school, etc, beats all foreign affectations, language, out of them, us. I do hope to get it back, but live in a city which must have only a handful of Farsi speakers at most, if any, (and I can’t really learn from books).
    BUT, I can answer your question! 2 principle reasons:
    – Farsi, a fairly ancient language, has quite a small vocabulary, AND

    – Haven’t you noticed that (particularly with the Bourgeois) worldwide, people look up to/ love/ are obsessed with English and/ or French. The Two Kings of European “language Imperialism” and imposition. (Spanish might be the most widely spoken, but I have another thesis why Spanish doesn’t have so many people pulling themselves off to it’s sounds… well, funny, because those most enamoured with [affected, homo-repressed, King lisping] Spanish, tend to be people from the English speaking world, and… the French! 🙂 At least, I’ve known too many – incidentally, just met a French wanker during Carnaval who sometimes insisted we speak Spanish instead of Portugese!?!?!?!?!
    So,
    1) Necessity, “modernising” world
    2) European aspirations.

    Good on them, I agree, French is nicer on the tongue and ears than English, if it were a choice between the two.

    Hope not to bore or estrange you,
    Much love, Khoda-Hafez.
    Davood.

  • œ

    I, too, love this list, and like many others think it’s only fault is that it lacks completeness. I’m especially starteled that nobody has mentioned one of my all-time favourites, even in the comments. Does nobody love it but me? Like they say: de gustibus non est disputandum (there is no disputing about taste).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_gustibus_non_est_disputandum

    To be fair, I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce this in English, but luckily the written nature of internet communication spares me the embarassment of having to try.

  • Lucy

    cul-de-sac – the expression comes from Catalan and not French, as one of my Catalan students pointed out. the word “cul” means the body part “bottom” (British English).

  • Valley~*

    You know, the only times I have found myself using [sic] was when quoting from a professor lmao… good thing they took it lightly… :/

  • maya

    WOWy!

    I knew somewhere such an ad hoc website would exist …de facto!!
    Mr Daniel, youve just got urself one cool new “stalker”!!
    peace n luv

    Ma *_________* ya

    I <3 this!!

  • Peter

    David: Aside from the fact that the long-established English name of the language is “Persian”, google “Persian not Farsi” for a gazillion requests by native Persian speakers, including the The Academy of Persian Language and Literature (Persian sort of Académie française), to please stop calling their language “Farsi”.

  • venqax

    David: Given your upset with the imperialist oppression of the Europeans who robbed you of your Farsi, you might just show them a thing or two by moving to Farsiland, wherever that might be. I am always fascinated by people who come to a place, complain about it, and refuse to leave.

    @Peter: I get similarly miffed at those sho call Burma Myanmar– a a name only the monstrous regime there promotes, not the Burmese people.

  • Dale Fedderson

    The French speakers in these comments say cul does not have a risque or raunchy feel, so I believe the “cul” in cul-de-sac would be better translated as “butt”, not “ass”. For instance, we in English use “butt” to mean not just buttocks, but also the butt of a hammer–the base or bottom of the hammer.

    And I think the butt-of-the-sack implies that this kind of dead-end street MUST include a turn-around; otherwise it is just a dead-end, with no “butt”.

  • Robert

    I thought “cul-de sac” meant a desireable street location, which it does, but I now know the history and source, so I am less ignorant.I like this site, my mind definitley needs this kind of help. Writing well does not come easy for me.
    Robert
    p.s.-Thank you Professor Priscilla Trowbridge from N.A.U 1978, what you did for me still means a lot to me. Never before or never after did I have a Professor travel 217 miles to a bar in old downtown Yuma just to feel the words from my story about my Native American friend Veral Vest, a wonderful charming alcoholic man who worked in a commercial laundry and and drank beer at the bar next door every day after work. He died a few years after I wrote about him and the bar. He was a good man, and I’m glad I got to know him.

  • Jim

    It amazes me that these “I think it means…” exchanges go on and on.
    As Mom frequently said “Look it up in the dictionary!” Educate yourselves! And the claim that a word’s definition in the source language has NO relevance to its use in English is utter rubbish.
    BTW, the Latin definition of “sic” is “thus”, in English manuscripts indicating that a quote has been faithfully rendered, though it contains spelling, grammatical or usage error; essentially, it is a device for mocking the quotee.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @totof022 on June 19, 2007

    You need to learn to capitalize French, Latin, German, ENGLISH, American, Brit, Canadian, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Mexican, etc., each and every time that you write them in English.

    Not doing so simply makes you look hugely ignorant, and with your being French, it makes you look presumptuous, too. You wish to tell the rest of the world what to do, but you don’t want to do simple things like capitalizing proper nouns and proper adjectives.
    D.A.W.

    I am a native french speaker and studied latin (among french, german end english) in high school.

    Mabe you americans and brits should invest some time and energy into (really) learning a different language (you know, what ROW speaks).

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree whole heartedly:
    @Peter: I get similarly miffed at those who call Burma “Myanmar”– a a name that only the MONSTROUS regime there promotes, and not the Burmese people.

    Yes, Burmese people, Burmese language, Burmese culture, Burmese cats, Burmese tiger traps, Burmese education, all from the country proudly called Burma.

    By the way, the Department of State of the United States recognizes Burma as the official name of that country, and not anything else. The Department of State is the one in charge of the foreign relations of this country. It sincerely opposes the oppressiive military regime in Burma.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The French phrase “en masse” expresses an idea that we do not have a word or short phrase for in English.
    The equivalent adverb in German is “massenweise”. In German, the words that end in “weise” are almost always adverbs.

    For an example sentence: “The Austrian troops attacked the Italian Army en masse.” That is, as a huge mass of men, with no attempt for maneuver or deception – in a frontal assault.

    The Luftwaffe based in France attacked England en masse in 1940.
    D.A.W.

  • Rob

    Great site and list, but there are many other non-English (words and) phrases used in everyday English that the list would benefit from. Examples include en masse, deja vu, pro bono, c’est la vie, raison d’etra, quid pro quo, pro rata, versus, et cetera – and so on 😉

    I’m specifically talking about the things that you’d get in everyday conversation, or read in newspapers, magazines and general books. I’m not referring to famous Latin quotes (“Cogito ergo sum”, “Vini, vidi, vici”, etc.), which prove you learned about Julius Caesar and the like in your youth, or some of the more arcane Latin phrases you’d hear in legalese (“habeas corpus”, “pro tem”, “ipso facto”, etc.) – even though some phrases like “pro bono” come from the legal world, but have also moved into more normal English usage.

    I’ve enjoyed reading some of the comments here, though some people need to lighten up a bit about the literal translation versus the accepted usage. In most cases, if you look at the literal translation, it is easy to see how the everyday usage evolved from there.

    For instance, “cul-de-sac”. It means “bottom of the bag”, “end of the bag” or indeed “arse of the bag”. It refers to a turnaround road, and not a dead-end, per Daniel’s definition. Just like what happens when you get into the bottom of a bag, you have to turn around to come out again. Same with a cul-de-sac; go in, loop round, and come out again.

    As for “ad hoc”, Daniel’s definition is absolutely right. Ad hoc means “for a specific purpose”. While it is true that many ad hoc teams, organisations, committees, or whatever appear to be haphazard and without a structure or plan, that is not relevant to the definition or the usage. Ad hoc does not mean “random”. Quite the opposite, in fact. “We’ll do that ad hoc” means “We’ll do that as and when we need it”.

  • David Warley

    Having received a liberal education including some Latin and French I didn’t find any of these expressions to be at all “foreign”.

    Having some acquaintance with more demotic French, as opposed to what they teach at school, I learned that “cul” refers to a part of the anatomy as in “Baisez moi le cul” (Kiss my a***)

    So a “cul-de-sac” would be a particularly useless or problematic item. But where I come from it just means “No through road”.

    I do find American English usage to be sometimes very foreign. When at a meeting I may ask to table something that I want to talk about. Ie put it on the table so we can talk about it. I was surprised to find that my US colleagues thought I meant put it under the table where we can all ignore it. For that we use a carpet.

  • Puku

    Some more are
    1. ad. infinitum.
    2. et.al.
    3. quid-pro-quo
    4. Quad Erat Deonstradum (QED)

  • Chris

    Carefull with cul-de-sac. With phrases, french tend to never use literal translation, making it extremely difficult for un-native speakers to relate the phrases (successfully). Please note that ‘cul’ does not mean bottom, ‘cul’ means ass. Their is a popular french phrase to have ones ass between two stools.” Avoir le cul entre deux chaises”

  • Haris

    Hi Daniel, i did not expect to see these expressions at once. I was looking for cul-de-sac, and your post gave me the foreign expressions. thanks a lot.

  • Grey

    I would like to add something about the use of ‘per se’, since I am Dutch and the phrase is used a lot in the Netherlands (however with a slightly different meaning)
    In fact, ‘per se’ is used meaning something like ‘necessarily’, for example we say ‘Dat hoeft niet per se.’, meaning ‘It is not really necessary’, or something like ‘Moet je dit per se doen?’ meaning ‘Do you necessarily have to do this?’

    ‘Per se’ is in fact used a lot in the Netherlands (it has become kind of an untranslatable phrase, everybody simply uses ‘per se’ in these situations) so I thought it was funny to read that it is not commonly used in English.

    I don’t think this will add a lot to the discussion on this page, but the more you know, right? 😉

  • Cantor

    I mistakenly thought that “ad hoc” necessarily has a negative connotation. When it is used in the sense of “done without planning because of immediate need,” a negative connotation is certainly waiting in the shadows.

  • Sebastian

    ‘Cul’ in cul-de-sac is French for ‘bum’,’bottom’,’arse (ass)’, as in the thing that you sit upon.

    Fun fact: the play ‘Oh! Calcutta!’, which stunned 60s and 70s audiences with full nudity, was a pun on the French phrase ‘O quel cul t’as!’, meaning ‘Oh what a lovely arse you have!’.

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