“The problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur.”

This phrase was attributed to George W. Bush, evidence of his famed stupidity. ‘Entrepreneur’ is a French word, duh! In fairness, he almost certainly never said this, but it’s still a fun example of what’s called a loanword.

What’s a loanword? Well, just as it sounds, it’s a word that’s taken from one language and incorporated into another. Sometimes this process is also called ‘borrowing’, which is funny because it’s not like we’re ever going to give those words back!

Can you think of any examples in your language?

With the relative dominance of English as a global language, especially in business and technology, this borrowing tends to go mostly in one direction. And not everyone is happy with having so many anglicisms in their language.

But borrowing words is nothing new. All languages do it. In fact, English is full of loanwords, too. This week we’ll take a quick look at the history of the language and find out why so many English words actually come from French.

The French Connection


You can think of the English language is a kind of hybrid, composed of words of many different origins. It is classified as a Germanic language, but as much as two thirds of English vocabulary comes from French and Latin.


The French Connection | The secret French words hidden in the English Language | Oxford House Barcelona

Source: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language#/media/File:Origins_of_English_PieChart_2D.svg


Why is there so much French? To answer this we need to go back to 1066, the year of the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror did what he was good at, took over the British Isles and introduced Anglo-Norman French as the language of administration. Most of the population continued speaking Anglo-saxon, but borrowed many terms from the ruling elite.

Of course, due to the proximity of the two countries, many other words and phrases have been taken from French over the years. Here are some of the thousands of words of French origin used in English today. See if you can use them in a conversation today!

Politics and society


Borrowing usually happens when new objects or concepts are introduced to a country. For example, with the invention of the Internet, users of different languages basically had two options: use the English loanword or invent their own new word. Here’s what happened.

Similarly, when the Normans came to Britain, they brought with them many new concepts related to organising society. For this reason, many of the words we have today related to feudalism, government and religious institutions have French origins.

The secret French words hidden in the English Language | Politics and society | Oxford House Barcelona
The secret French words hidden in the English Language | Oxford House Barcelona

Culture and the arts


What comes to mind when you think of culture? Art, theatre and music are obvious places to start. And (surprise, surprise) these are all French words! In fact, modern French words are common in English across all cultural spheres.

hidden in the English Language | Oxford House Barcelona

The secret French words hidden in the English Language | Oxford House Barcelona

Just be careful when it comes to pronunciation. In some cases, loanwords follow English phonological rules (e.g. portrait /’pɔːtreɪt/). In other cases, words are pronounced (more or less!) as they would be in French (e.g. genre /ˈʒɒn.rə/). If in doubt, check them on an online dictionary like www.wordreference.com.

Food and dining


Now this is where French really dominates! When talking about cuisine or restaurants (again, both French), you won’t get far without using words taken directly or adapted from the French language.

It’s also interesting to notice how loanwords often take on a more specific meaning. This is very clear in the words for animals and their corresponding meats.

‘Cow’ comes from Old English and ‘beef’ comes from the Old French. The first would have been used by Anglo-saxon peasant farmers in the fields, while the second was used by the Norman nobility at the dinner table. Similar examples include pig/pork, calf/veal, sheep/mutton.

Here are some more essential terminology for dining out!

Food and dining | The secret French words hidden in the English Language | Oxford House Barcelona

The secret French words hidden in the English Language | Oxford House Barcelona

Note that not all variations of English behave the same. For example, in British English, we use the French words courgette and aubergine; whereas Americans opted for zucchini (from Italian) and eggplant.

Need some more help making a reservation, asking for a recommendation and ordering food? → Why not check out our Simple Guide to Communicating at a Restaurant

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Famed (adj):: known about by many people.

Anglicisms (n): words or phrases borrowed from English into a foreign language.

Ruling elite (exp): the class of people exerting power or authority.

Take on (pv): to develop a particular character or appearance.

Peasant (n): a poor agricultural worker of low social status.


adj = adjective

n = noun

exp = expression

pv = phrasal verb

exp = expression

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