15 Foreign Words and Phrases People Spell Incorrectly
Here are some problematic frequently misspelled words and phrases of foreign extraction:
1. A capella: The Italian phrase, literally “in chapel style” but meaning “without instrumental accompaniment,” is two words.
2. Apropos: The French phrase for “to the purpose,” and meaning “with regard to” or “opportune” or timely,” is treated as two words in the original language but as one in English. It’s sometimes erroneously split into two in English, which is not appropriate.
3. Capisce: This formal Italian term meaning “understand” is employed in English as a slang interrogative equivalent to “You know what I mean?” (Notice that capisci is also correct, as it’s the equivalent of capisce in the second person).
4. Chaise longue: This phrase, literally “long chair” in French, is often mispronounced “chase lounge” (the correct French pronunciation is “shez long,” though the vowel sound in the first word is in English closer to “shayz”) and, by association, the second word is sometimes misspelled like “lounge.”
5. Coffee klatch: This half-translation of the German word Kaffeeklatsch (“coffee gossip”) is an open compound (or, in a variant, more faithful spelling, a hyphenated compound: coffee-klatsch).
6. De rigueur: This French word for “proper,” adopted into English, is (like liqueur) properly spelled with two us.
7. En masse: This French phrase for “as one” is one of several adopted into English as is.
8. Flak: This German acronym — derived from Fliegerabwehrkanonen, or antiaircraft guns, and, by extension, the shells fired from them, and used in English to refer to criticism or opposition — has so often been misspelled flack that this second spelling is now an accepted variant, though the direct borrowing is preferred.
9. Hors d’oeuvres: The jumble of vowels following the article d’ in this direct borrowing from the French phrase meaning “apart from the main work” stymies many writers.
10. Laissez-faire: This direct translation of the French phrase translated roughly as “let do” and referring to minimal government interference in economic or other affairs is always hyphenated, even when used as a noun.
11. Mano a mano: This Spanish phrase for “hand to hand” refers, in English as well, to two people going up against each other in competition or conflict.
12. Oeuvre: The French term for “work,” most often used in the sense of the sum total of an artist’s output, consists of a bewildering sequence of letters.
13. Per se: People unfamiliar with the origin of this phrase (it’s borrowed directly from the Latin phrase meaning “in itself”) sometimes misspell it “per say” (perhaps as if to write “as said”).
14. Segue: Confusion with the name of the vehicle called the Segway may be responsible for the occasional misspelling of this word to resemble the brand name, though that error may just be the result of a phonetic attempt to produce the borrowed French term meaning “to make a close or smooth transition.”
15. Tchotchke: This improbably spelled alteration of a Yiddish word meaning “trinket” is a spelling bee competitor’s nightmare.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Spelling category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!