50 Foreign Terms That Aren’t Foreign

By Mark Nichol

English is a very welcoming language, adopting terms indiscriminately from other tongues. Many publishers observe a distinction between naturalized words and those still considered foreign, honoring the assimilation of the former by refraining from using any visual emphasis and italicizing those in the latter category.

The careful writer will honor this distinction, but how is one to know to which class a particular word or phrase belongs? Adopted words will appear in the dictionary, while words or phrases that have not received a green card remain relegated to a print dictionary’s appendix, if any. Or, check out this virtual cheat sheet, which lists words and phrases (with brief definitions) that do not merit italicization.

1. à la carte: priced separately
2. à la mode: fashionable; topped with ice cream
3. a priori: presumptive, presupposed
4. ad hoc: formed for a special purpose
5. ad infinitum: without end or limit
6. ad nauseam: to an excessive or sickening degree
7. apropos: opportune or relevant
8. attaché: a diplomatic technical expert; a briefcase
9. avant-garde: innovative
10. belles lettres: artistic literature
11. bon voyage: have a good trip
12. bona fide: genuine, sincere
13. carte blanche: full permission
14. caveat emptor: let the buyer beware
15. chargé d’affaires: a deputy ambassador or minister
16. coup d’état: a violent government overthrow
17. cul-de-sac: a dead end
18. de facto: in practice
19. doppelgänger: an alter ego, double, or ghost; someone with the same name as someone else
20. en masse: as a whole, in one body
21. en route: along or on the way
22. ex officio: because of or by virtue of an office
23. fait accompli: something already done and irreversible
24. faux pas: an error
25. fete: a celebration; celebrate
26. habeas corpus: an order to bring a jailed person before a judge to determine whether the person should be jailed; the right of a person against illegal imprisonment
27. hors d’oeuvre: appetizers
28. ipso facto: by the fact itself
29. machismo: an exaggerated masculinity or show of strength
30. maître d’: a headwaiter or steward
31. ménage: a household; housekeeping
32. modus operandi: a way of doing things
33. nom de plume: a pen name
34. non sequitur: a statement that does not logically follow what was previously said
35. papier-mâché: paper mixed with glue and water to harden for molding for artistic projects
36. per capita: per person
37. per diem: per day, paid by the day; a daily allowance or fee
38. per se: by itself
39. persona non grata: an unacceptable person
40. précis: a concise summary
41. prima donna: a conceited person
42. prima facie: apparent, self-evident, or at first view
43. pro bono: donated
44. realpolitik: practical rather than theoretical politics
45. soiree: an evening party or reception
46. status quo: the current state
47. tête-à-tête: a private conversation; a piece of furniture designed to facilitate one
48. tour de force: an impressive display or feat
49. vice versa: with the order changed
50. vis-à-vis: in relation to

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12 Responses to “50 Foreign Terms That Aren’t Foreign”

  • Dale A. Wood

    The “chargé d’affaires” is also the diplomatic official in charge of the embassy whenever the ambassador has been withdrawn for good cause. There has been some dispute between Country B and Country C, and in a recourse short of war, one or both of the countries has withdrawn its ambassador in protest.
    Still, there is business to be done by both sides in their opposing capital cities. There are lost or stolen passports, visas that need to be issued or renewed, and so forth, and the ambassador or the consul takes care of that.
    I chose “B” and “C” because Bolivia and Chile have not had formal diplomatic relations (with the exchange of ambassadors) since 1978, because of some long-running disputes**. Still, there is business to be done.
    The United States has a “chargé d’affaires” in Havanna, and Cuba has a “chargé d’affaires” in Washington, D.C.
    During 1941, before the U.S. entered World War II, the United States had withdrawn its ambassador from Nazi Germany, but I presume that there was still a “chargé d’affaires” in Berlin. I believe that the U.S. had also broken off diplomatic relations with Vichy France, the puppet government of Southern France, one that took its orders from the Nazis.
    Thus, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and a couple of days later, Hitler declared war against the U.S., there was no question of bringing our ambassador home from Berlin. He had already left Germany.
    On the other hand, American ambassador Grew in Tokyo, Japan, and his whole staff, were stuck in Tokyo for months, as prisoners of the Japanese.

    An amazing thing is that they returned home to the U.S. by way of Mozambique! A neutral Swedish ship brought a lot of diplomats home from there to Britain, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and so forth.
    Mexico and Brazil declared war against the Axis powers in early 1942. So, there were a lot of diplomats who wanted to go home, including Dutchmen who wanted to leave the East Indies and Tokyo, but they didn’t want to go back to Holland immediately.
    I have never read about the Aussies and New Zealanders who needed to leave Tokyo. Their countries had already been at war against German and Italy for a couple of years.

    **The dispute between Chile and Bolivia goes all the way back to 1870, when Chile took away the entire Pacific Coast of Bolivia, making it a landlocked country! Chile also took the southmost provinces of Peru, but during the 1920s, those were given back, on the will of the people.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with Venqax completely on this one.

    Also, some men have taken to spelling their given names or surnames as “Loyd” rather than “Lloyd”.
    It is also that in the U.S. we have had two celebrities named Lloyd Nolan and Nolan Lloyd. One is better known in Alabama, where in Birmingham there are the Lloyd Nolan Hospital and Lloyd Nolan Boulevard. Maybe Lloyd Nolan was well-known in other places, too.
    Furthermore,, we already have the word “Lama” in English, so it would not do to use that one for “llama”. Of course, a Lama is a holy man in the Tibetan and Nepalese form of Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama is the highest Lama of them all. He is considered to be the reincarnation of all of the Dalai Lamas who came before him.
    The present Dalai Lama is a great man who has won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

  • venqax

    @Agua Caliente: But that is precisely my point. You wouldn’t need foreign diacriticals for foreign pronunciations if you simply anglicized the word. Senyores, senyoras, and cafays. Just like we have canyons. Likewise, we could have Lamas or Yamas. But don’t give me Llamas and expect a Y to come out. IF you want to keep the pronunciation. If you want to keep the spelling, then the pronunciation changes: cafe rhymes with chafe. That’s why we would get halapenyo or IPA’s d͡ʒ æ l ə p iːn oʊ. Otherwise, you can’t say the word has really been adopted into English and you must be expecting every English speaker to be familiar with the orthography of every other language in the world. The bottom line is English speakers already have ENORMOUS problems– nukyular-powered problems– pronouncing English correctly. Isn’t that enough?

  • Dale A. Wood

    A great thing about English is that nearly all of us have disposed of all of the silly diacritical marks that are used in French, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, and the Scandinavian languages
    Those are silly marks that are supposed to tell you how to pronounce words. Aren’t you just supposed to KNOW?
    If you have heard or seen “café”, “fiancé”, “fiancée” ONCE, then you should know all about “cafe”, “fiance”, and “fiancee”.
    If you have seen or heard “Lodz”, “Krakow”, “Danzig”, or “Gdansk” ONCE, then you should know them forevermore. “Lodz” is especially ridiculous: a four-letter word with two or three diacritical marks in it!
    We do not need them: they are and unnecessary complication. In fact, such marks are expressly forbidden by the Board of Geographical names (of the post office) in the United States. Even apostrophes are forbidden, hence “Pikes Peak”, “Cades Cove”, “Hells Gate”, and “Hells Canyon”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    #52: via
    #53: This one pairs up with “a priori” – “a posteriori”, because they are antonyms of a sort. Actually, they are both technical terms in probability & statistics because they are “a priori” probabilities and “a posteriori” probabilities. These are related by the concepts of conditional probability and Bayes theorem (introduced by Thomas Bayes of England, long ago.)

  • Agua Caliente

    Even with loanwords, a diacritical mark may be needed. For example, señores, señoras, señoritas et al., there’s “café”? (I did not use copy/paste for the marks.)

  • ApK

    venqax and Nancy both make some good points (which doesn’t help clear things up for me, thanks for nothing!)
    But if we strictly go with Nancy, then English is nothing more than a pidgin or creole, borrowing everything, owning nothing, a pot where other people’s cultures are contained, nothing of value added of our own. That is not “learning to spell the added English word”, the accents are not “added to English,” we are simply speaking a bunch of other languages. I think English is better, stronger, and more important than that.

    I don’t want us to spell jalapeno with an H. And we should include the foreign marks (which would require obscure codes, as they aren’t native on my ENGLISH keyboard, so I’m not adding them now,) but to me, that’s us simply using a foreign word. Why, exactly, is it or should it be considered “added to English?”

  • Agua Caliente

    51. zeitgeist

  • Nancy Romness

    I disagree. The diacritical marks are important guides to the pronunciation of the words. English is unique in the way it has absorbed words from so many, many other languages. Americans can learn how to spell the foreign words (along with their accent marks) that have been added to English. They just have to try!
    News announcers and commentators need to put more effort into learning the pronunciation of foreign words (and place names), too. If they pronounce something incorrectly, the whole country will be saying it wrong.

  • venqax

    I go a step further. If a word of phrase of foreign origin has really been adopted and assimilated into English, then not only should foreign diacritical marks be abandoned, but the pronunciation should be anglicized. That is what every other language besides English does. Why we insist that people continue with–or even know–ridiculously un-English spelling pronunciation conventions for innumerable other languages is inexplicable. Either it is spelled halapenyo, or it is pronounced Jalapeeno, J as in jelly. Js don’t make an H sound in English, Hs do. Either it is called a JEYE-ro (as the identically spelled English word is pronounced), or it is spelled hiro. Same thing. You can’t have it both ways. Notice the Hispanophones play beisbol. ANd yes, I’d eat kwitch lorraine just as often. Which is not very.

  • Danny

    What about ditching the accent marks on the no-longer-foreign idioms? Many people get them wrong anyway.

  • ApK

    I’m not clear on how these things are decided. How can it be called adopted into our language when it’s spelled with accents and other marks that aren’t in our language?

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