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6 Expressions English Stole from Other Languages

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2 November, 2020
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Throughout history, English has had influences from languages all over the world. That’s part of the reason that it can feel so inconsistent and irregular; it’s the result of bits and pieces of many different languages. Although some foreign words have fit into English so well that native speakers might not even realize where they came from (kindergarten from German, bravo from Italian, etc.), English borrows some expressions that give your sentence a foreign flair – even if we’ve changed the meaning (and pronunciation) significantly. These phrases might come up when you're first learning English, so don't be surprised if you recognize a word or two that has been stolen from your native language!

We’ve gathered here a list of common expressions and words that English has adopted. Take a look.

 

French

À la carte

(pronounced “ah la CART”)

Literal French meaning: “according the menu”

ordered individually from a menu

This term describes the usual restaurant practice of ordering items from a menu as opposed to fixed menus or restaurants with limited options.

Customers can order their meal à la carte, or else pay a set fee for the buffet.

 

Bon voyage

(pronounced “BON voy-AJ”)

Literal French meaning: “[have a] good trip”

Have a good trip!

Although the pronunciation has been changed to be simpler for English speakers, the meaning has stayed essentially the same.

Bon voyage! Have fun in France!

 

Hors d’oeuvre/hors d'oeuvres

(pronounced “or DERV”, plural “or DERVS”; be sure not to pronounce the “h”!)

Literal meaning: “outside of the work”; is used to mean “appetizer”

A small dish served before a meal, also known as a starter or appetizer

The original French term refers to food eaten in addition to or outside of the usual “work” of eating. The spelling is quite difficult for English speakers, as is the original French pronunciation, which is why the “r” is pronounced as if it were before the “v”!

Before the main course, I think I’ll give the guests at my party a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

 

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German

Gesundheit

(pronounced “geh-ZUN-tite”)

Literal German meaning: “health”; also used after someone sneezes

What you say after someone sneezes (US)

The usual response to someone sneezing is “Bless you” or sometimes “God bless you” in English, but in the US it’s not uncommon to hear the German word used – although many people might not know how it’s spelled. Although there’s no clear reason why the word has become so popular, there have been many German immigrants to the US over the centuries, and the term removes the religious connotations of the term “bless you”.

 

Doppelgänger

(pronounced “DOP-pul-gan-ger”)

Literal German meaning: “double goer”

  • Someone who very closely resembles another in appearance or actions
  • An evil folkloric spirit or creature that looks just like someone else

Although we can use the term “twin” in English, “doppelgänger” emphasizes the closeness of the similarities between the two things, and, of course, is much more fun to say.

I saw your doppelgänger at the mall the other day: the cashier looked just like you!

 

 

Spanish

Mano a mano

(pronounced “MAH-no ah MAH-no”)

Literal Spanish meaning: “hand to hand”

In direct competition or conflict, especially as one person against another

Although many non-Spanish-speakers think the expression means “man to man” due to the similar appearance of the words, it actually refers to hand-to-hand physical fights between two people.

The villain decided to fight the hero mano a mano instead of having his henchmen do it for him.

 

This is just a small sampling of the many foreign expressions English speakers like to use. Let us know some of your other favorites in the comments! And, if you speak one of the languages English has borrowed from, do us a favor and try not to laugh at our Anglicized pronunciation!

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