English words of French origin and how to pronounce them
On 14 July 1789, the storming of the Bastille prison in the centre of Paris marked the beginning of the French Revolution. It was a major watershed in the history of Europe and is today still celebrated as a public holiday in France.
The event gave the country a national motto as well: liberté, égalité, fraternité (‘liberty, equality, fraternity’). But the context of the Revolution also led to the emergence of the much darker terrorisme, a system of the ‘Terror’, that was borrowed into English in 1795.
The majority of the words we want to look at here are (hopefully) quite a bit more pleasant than this: below is a selection of English words of French origins, and how to pronounce them correctly.
The body of work of a painter, composer, or author. Also: a work of art, music, or literature. Literally ‘work’.
A group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history; a tableau vivant. Literally ‘picture’.
ˈʃaɡrɪn / ʃəˈɡrɪn
Annoyance or distress at having failed or been humiliated. From chagrin (noun), literally ‘rough skin, shagreen’.
The final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Also: the outcome of a situation, when something is decided or made clear. From dénouer, ‘unknot’.
A person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit. Also: a promoter in the entertainment industry. From entreprendre, ‘undertake’.
ˌreɪzɒ̃ ˈdɛtrə / ʀɛzɔ̃ dɛtʀ
The most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence. Literally ‘reason for being’.
fəʊ ˈpɑː / fo pa
An embarrassing or tactless act or remark in a social situation. Literally ‘false step’.
The easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries. From French détente, ‘loosening, relaxation’.
A confused fight or scuffle. Also: a confused crowd of people. From an Old French variant of meslee, based on medieval Latin misculare ‘to mix’.
Deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage. Also as a noun: the action of sabotaging something. From saboteur, ‘kick with sabots, wilfully destroy’. Sabots are a kind of simple shoe, shaped and hollowed out from a single block of wood, traditionally worn by French and Breton peasants.
A slaughterhouse. From abattre, ‘to fell; to strike down’.
ˈdɛbriː / ˈdeɪbriː