Category: French words in English usage

Anniversaries already contain the word for 'year'

Anniversaries already contain the word for 'year'
Don’t worry about mentioning the “20-year anniversary” or any “year anniversary” of any event coming soon. The French word for year is “an,” and for “all year long” it’s “annee.” The word “anniversaire” in French is actually used like our “birthday,” although I have seen some fancy writers using “jour de naissance,” day of birth.... Read more »

Yes, that was a coup d'etat (even though it failed)

Yes, that was a coup d'etat (even though it failed)
There’s a lot of arguing about words in the aftermath of Jan. 6’s events at the U.S. Capitol. Was it an insurrection, a riot, an attack, or a coup d’etat? The term “coup d’etat” is, according to my faithful desk dictionary (Webster’s New Twentieth Century), is “a sudden, forceful stroke in politics,” and Jan. 6’s... Read more »

The Beatitudes -- or The Happinesses?

The Beatitudes -- or The Happinesses?
I recently heard a sermon at my home church which mentioned the Beatitudes — the verses of the Sermon on the Mount which, in English translations from the the King James to the Revised Standard Version, begin “Blessed are…” various people for unexpected reasons. I struggled with my pastor’s interpretation of each of the blessings... Read more »
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Safire 'On Language' -- fun with mondegreens

Safire 'On Language' -- fun with mondegreens
In William Safire’s delightful book “On Language” (New York, 1980, Times Books),  he has a funny entry about a category I loved laughing about before I knew its technical name, mondegreens. Actually, hearing sounds and thinking they sound for the wrong words has many names — Safire prefers mondegreen to the more technical “homophone,” “unwitting... Read more »

Forte vs. fort -- there should be a distinction

Forte vs. fort -- there should be a distinction
Sometimes watching or listening to something familiar at an odd time can unearth distinctions to words that were unnoticed before. That’s what happened to me this morning when I had a little time for my personal “Insomnia Theatre.” I was tired of the news, but too tired to sleep, so I put on a rerun... Read more »

'The Story of English' -- The Mother Tongue

'The Story of English' -- The Mother Tongue
“From the beginning, English was a crafty hybrid, made in war and peace,” write Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil in Chapter Two of “The Story of English,” called “The Mother Tongue.” Invasions and cultural revolutions fed the development of English long before 1776 and American independence. In the eighteenth century, “a gifted amateur... Read more »
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'The Story of English' -- Speaking of English (and why now)

'The Story of English' -- Speaking of English (and why now)
As promised, here’s part one of the series about the book “The Story of English.”  But I would be remiss if I went on with it without mentioning why I choose to stick with writing about words now. First of all, you expect it of me. But secondly, for those of you who think I... Read more »

Why people say 'Mayday' (and why this won't get read on the radio)

Why people say 'Mayday' (and why this won't get read on the radio)
Happy May 1! That’s how you’ll probably hear today mentioned on radio and TV. You’re extremely unlikely to hear it mentioned as a little holiday you may have celebrated at school, May Day. (Even the parades in Russia are usually described as May 1 parades.) That’s because Mayday is the international signal for distress. It... Read more »

Yes, it's Louis -- not Lewis

Yes, it's Louis -- not Lewis
I was delighted to hear the radio stories this morning about the names of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby — Prince Louis Arthur Charles. I was happy because of the names’ historical connections, but also because I could hear the first name first. Here in the former colonies, we’re more likely to spell this pronunciation... Read more »
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History as a suspense story

History as a suspense story
I’ve been away from the blog more than usual lately because of my reading habits. Not only am I in the last chapter of “The Sign of Four,” in company with my own characters, but I’ve been reading a great and suspenseful biography. That’s right, a suspenseful biography — to be exact, “The Last Lion... Read more »