List of French Words and Phrases Used By English Speakers - Not Used As Such in French

Not Used As Such in French

Through the evolution of the language, many words and phrases are no longer used in French. Also, there are those that, even though grammatically correct, do not have the same meaning in French as the English words that derive from them.

accoutrement
personal military or fighting armaments worn about one's self; has come to mean the accompanying items available to pursue a mission, or just accessories in general. In French, means a funny or ridiculous clothing; often a weird disguise or a getup, though it can be said also for people with bad taste in clothing.
agent provocateur
a police spy who infiltrates a group to disrupt or discredit it. In French it has both a broader and more specific meaning. The Académie française, in its dictionary, says that an agent provocateur is a person working for another State or a political party (for example), whose mission is to provoke troubles in order to justify repression.
appliqué
an inlaid or attached decorative feature. Lit. "applied," though this meaning doesn't exist as such in French, the dictionary of the Académie française indicates that in the context of the arts, "arts appliqués" is synonym of decorative arts.
après-ski
after skiing socializing after a ski session; in French, this word refers to boots used to walk in snow (e.g. MoonBoots).
artiste
a skilled performer, a person with artistic pretensions. In French: an artist. Can be used ironically for a person demonstrating little professional skills or passion.
arrêt à bon temps
A counterattack that attempts to take advantage of an uncertain attack in fencing. Though grammatically correct, this expression is not used in French. The term "arrêt" exists in fencing, with the meaning of a "simple counteroffensive action"; the general meaning is "a stop." A French expression is close, though: "s'arrêter à temps" (to stop in time).
auteur
A film director, specifically one who controls most aspects of a film, or other controller of an artistic situation. The English connotation derives from French film theory. It was popularized in the journal Cahiers du cinéma: auteur theory maintains that directors like Hitchcock exert a level of creative control equivalent to the author of a literary work. In French, the word means author, but some expressions like "cinéma d'auteur" are also in use.
au naturel
nude; in French, literally, in a natural manner or way (au is the contraction of à le, masculine form of à la). It means "in an unaltered way" and can be used either for people or things. For people, it rather refers to a person who does not use make-up or artificial manners (un entretien au naturel = a backstage interview). For things, it means that they have not been altered. Often used in cooking, like thon au naturel: canned tuna without any spices or oil. Also in heraldry, meaning "in natural colours," especially flesh colour, which is not one of the "standard" colours of heraldry.
à la mode
fashionable; also, with ice cream (in the U.S.) or with cheese in some U.S. regions. In French, it means "fashionable" but is also a culinary term usually meaning something cooked with carrots and onions, as in boeuf à la mode.
bête noire
a scary or unpopular person, idea, or thing, or the archetypical scary monster in a story; literally "black beast." In French, être la bête noire de quelqu'un ("to be somebody's black beast") means that you're particularly hated by this person or this person has a strong aversion against you, regardless of whether you're scary or not. The dictionary of the Académie française admits its use only for people, though other dictionaries admits it for things or ideas too. Colloquial in French.
boutique
a clothing store, usually selling designer/one off pieces rather than mass-produced clothes. Can also describe a quirky and/or upmarket hotel. In French, it can describe any shop, clothing or otherwise.
boutonnière
In English, a boutonnière is a flower placed in the buttonhole of a suit jacket. In French, a boutonnière is the buttonhole itself.
c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre
"it is magnificent, but it is not war" — quotation from Marshal Pierre Bosquet commenting on the charge of the Light Brigade. Unknown quotation in French.
cause célèbre
An issue arousing widespread controversy or heated public debate, lit. 'famous cause'. It is correct grammatically, but the expression is not used in French.
chacun à son goût
the correct expressions in French are chacun ses goûts / à chacun ses goûts / à chacun son goût: "to each his/her own taste(s)".
cinq à sept
extraconjugal affair between five and seven pm. In French, though it can also mean this, it primarily means any relaxing time with friends between the end of work and the beginning of the marital obligations.
chanson
a classical "art song," equiv. to the German lied or the Italian aria; or, in Russian, a cabaret-style sung narrative, usually rendered by a guttural male voice with guitar accompaniment. In French, it simply means a song.
claque
a group of admirers; in old French, the claque was a group of people paid to applaud or disturb a piece at the theater; in modern French, it means "a slap"; clique is used in this sense (but in a pejorative way).
connoisseur
an expert in wines, fine arts, or other matters of culture; a person of refined taste. It is spelled connaisseur in modern French.
corsage
A bouquet of flowers worn on a woman's dress or worn around her wrist. In French, it refers to a woman's chest (from shoulder to waist) and, by extension, the part of a woman's garment that covers this area.
coup de main (pl. coups de main)
a surprise attack. In French, un coup de main means " a hand" (to give assistance). Even if the English meaning exists as well (as in faire le coup de main), it is old-fashioned.
coup d'état (pl. coups d'État)
a sudden change in government by force; literally "hit (blow) of state." French uses the capital É, because the use of a capital letter alters the meaning of the word (État: a State, as in a country; état: a state of being). It also cannot be shortened as coup, which means something else altogether in French.
début
first public performance of an entertainment personality or group. In French, it means "beginning." The English sense of the word exist only when in plural form: ses débuts (to make one's débuts on the scene).
décolletage
a low-cut neckline, cleavage. In French it means: 1. action of lowering a female garment's neckline; 2. Agric.: cutting leaves from some cultivated roots such as beets, carrots, etc.; 3. Tech. Operation consisting of making screws, bolts, etc. one after another out of a single bar of metal on a parallel lathe.
démarche
a decisive step. In French, it means a preparing step often used in the plural form, or a distinctive way of walking.
dépanneur
a neighbourhood general/convenience store, term used in eastern Canada (often shortened to dép or dep). This term is commonly used in Canadian French; however, in France, it means a repairman. In France, a convenience store would be a supérette or épicerie .
émigré
one who has emigrated for political reasons. In French, it means someone who emigrated. To imply the political reason, French would use of the word exilé (exiled).
encore
A request to repeat a performance, as in Encore!, lit. 'again'; also used to describe additional songs played at the end of a gig. Francophones would say «Une autre!» ('Another one!') to request « un rappel ».
en masse
in a mass or group, all together. In French, masse refers only to a physical mass, whether for people or objects. It cannot be used for something immaterial, like, for example, the voice: "they all together said 'get out'" would be translated as ils ont dit 'dehors' en choeur . Also, en masse refers to numerous people or objects (a crowd or a mountain of things).
en suite
as a set (not to be confused with ensuite, meaning "then"). In French, suite, when in the context of a hotel, already means several rooms following each other. J'ai loué une suite au Ritz would be translated as "I rented a suite at the Ritz." En suite is not grammatically incorrect in French, but it is not an expression in itself and it is not used.
épée
a fencing weapon descended from the duelling sword. In French, apart from fencing (the sport) the term is more generic: it means sword.
escritoire
a writing table. It is spelt écritoire in modern French.
exposé
a published exposure of a fraud or scandal (past participle of "to expose"); in French refers to a talk or a report on any kind of subject.
femme
a stereotypically effeminate gay man or lesbian (slang, pronounced as written). In French, femme (pronounced 'fam') means "woman."
fin de siècle
comparable to (but not exactly the same as) turn-of-the-century but with a connotation of decadence, usually applied to the period from 1890 through 1910. In French, it means "end of the century," but it isn't a recognized expression as such.
forte
a strength, a strong point, typically of a person, from the French fort(e) (strong) and/or Italian forte (strong, esp. "loud" in music) and/or Latin forte (neuter form of fortis, strong). French uses fort(e) for both people and objects.
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, "In forte we have a word derived from French that in its "strong point" sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated 'for-"tA and 'for-tE because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation 'fort, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with English for . All are standard, however. In British English 'fo-"tA and 'fot predominate; 'for-"tA and for-'tA are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English."
The New Oxford Dictionary of English derives it from fencing. In French, le fort d'une épée is the third of a blade nearer the hilt, the strongest part of the sword used for parrying.
la sauce est tout
"The sauce is everything!" or "The secret's in the sauce!" Tagline used in a 1950s American television commercial campaign for an American line of canned food products. Grammatically correct but not used in French, where one might say Tout est dans la sauce or C'est la sauce qui fait (passer) le poisson (also fig.).
marquee
the sign above a theater that tells you what is playing. From marquise, which means not only a marchioness but also an awning. Theater buildings are generally old and nowadays there is never such a sign above them; there is only the advertisement for the play (l'affiche).
nostalgie de la boue
"yearning for the mud"; attraction to what is unworthy, crude or degrading. Though grammatically correct, it is not used in French.
outré
out of the ordinary, unusual. In French, it means outraged (for a person) or exaggerated, extravagant, overdone (for a thing, esp. a praise, an actor's style of acting, etc.); in that second meaning, belongs to "literary" style.
passé
out of fashion. The correct expression in French is passé de mode. Passé means past, passed, or (for a colour) faded.
peignoir
a woman’s dressing gown. In French it is a bathrobe. A dressing gown is a robe de chambre (lit. a bedroom dress).
pièce d'occasion
"occasional piece"; item written or composed for a special occasion. In French, it means "second-hand hardware." Can be shortened as pièce d'occas' or even occas' (pronounced /okaz/).
portemanteau (pl. portemanteaux)
a blend; a word that fuses two or more words or parts of words to give a combined meaning. In French, lit. a 'coat-carrier', originally a person who carried the royal coat or dress train, now a large suitcase; more often, a clothes hanger. The equivalent of the English portemanteau is un mot-valise (lit. a suitcase word).
potpourri
medley, mixture; French write it pot-pourri, literally 'rotten pot': primarily a pot in which different kinds of flowers or spices are put to dry for years for the scent.
précis
a concise summary. In French, when talking about a school course, it means an abridged book about the matter. Literally, précis means precise, accurate.
première
refers to the first performance of a play, a film, etc. In French, it means "the first", and is used only for a live performance.
raisonneur
a type of author intrusion in which a writer inserts a character to argue the author's viewpoint; alter ego, sometimes called 'author avatar'. In French, a raisonneur is a character in a play who stands for morality and reason, i.e., not necessarily the author's point of view. The first meaning of this word though is a man (fem. raisonneuse) who overdoes reasonings, who tires by objecting with numerous arguments to every order.
recherché
lit. searched; obscure; pretentious. In French, means 'sophisticated' or 'delicate', or simply 'studied', without the negative connotations of the English.
rendezvous
lit. "go to"; a meeting, appointment, or date in French, but in English has taken on other overtones. Always hyphenated in French: rendez-vous. Its only accepted abbreviation in French is RDV.
reprise
repetition of previous music in a suite, programme, etc. In French, it may mean an alternate version of a piece of music, or a cover version. To express the repetition of a previous musical theme, French would exclusively use the Italian term coda.
résumé
in North American English, a document listing one's qualifications for employment. In French, it means summary; French speakers would use instead curriculum vitæ, or its abbreviation, C.V. (like most other English speakers)
risqué
sexually suggestive; in French, the meaning of risqué is "risky," with no sexual connotation. Francophones use instead osé (lit. "daring") or sometimes dévergondé (very formal language). Osé, unlike dévergondé, cannot be used for people themselves, only for things (such as pictures) or attitudes.
séance
a gathering, usually using a 'medium', attempting to communicate with the dead. In French, the word means 'sitting' and usually refers to any kind of meeting or session.
table d'hôte (pl. tables d'hôte)
a full-course meal offered at a fixed price. In French, it is a type of lodging where, unlike a hotel, you eat with other patrons and the host. Lit. "the host's table": one eats at the host's table whatever he has prepared for himself or herself, at the family's table, with a single menu. Generally, the menu is composed of traditional courses of the region and the number of patrons is limited.
tableau vivant (pl. tableaux vivants, often shortened as tableau)
in drama, a scene where actors remain motionless as if in a picture. Tableau means painting, tableau vivant, living painting. In French, it is an expression used in body painting.
vignette
a brief description; a short scene. In French, it is a small picture, and now in some European countries also means 'permit for driving on motorways.'

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    ‘’Tis all dependin’ whether
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