Do You Know These Foreign Phrases Used in English?

J. Reinoehl

What does “post mortem” mean?

As early as the 1200s, the University of Bologna advocated legal autopsies in criminal cases, and its medical facilities began performing autopsies about 100 years later. The Catholic church did not widely accept the practice of dissecting human remains until the 1500s.

What does “en masse” mean?

“When a crowd adopts a point of view en masse, all critical thinking stops.” – William Powers

What does “bona fide” mean?

“Bona fide” is a Latin term literally meaning, “with good faith.” It is usually an adjective, but in some legal cases can be used as an adverb that means “without intending to deceive.”

What does “faux pas” mean?

“My worst fashion faux pas: probably orange shoes with white pants. I thought I looked spectacular. – Kevin O’Leary

Which of the following means “every year"?

“Per annum” is primarily used for financial purposes, especially when calculating interest rates. In some cases, it refers to annual totals, such as costs per year, income per year, and the amount produced each year.

What does "status quo" mean?

“Status quo” is from the Latin phrase literally meaning “the state in which.” An example of its use is in the following sentence: The Congressional committee prefers to do things status quo.

What does the abbreviation P. S. used at the bottom of a letter or correspondence stand for?

"P. S. I Love" You was a 2007 film about a woman who loses her husband. As she struggles to move forward with her life, letters left by her husband help her deal with his passing.

What does "crème de la crème" mean?

“All my pupils are the crème de la crème. Give me a girl of an impressionable age, and she is mine for life. – Muriel Spark, British author

What does “a cappella” mean?

Pentatonix is a modern pop group that sings a cappella. Seven of their ten albums have placed on the Billboard Top 200, and they have won three Grammy awards.

Which of the following is "an unprepared speech"?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, when “ad lib” is used as an adjective, it is hyphenated: “ad-lib.” Webster-Mirriam hyphenates it if it is used as a noun. It comes from the Latin term “ad libitum” meaning “as you wish.”

What does "bon voyage" mean?

"Bon Voyage!" is a Disney movie released with a comic book of the same name. It is about the Willards who take their three children on a once -in-a-lifetime vacation to Paris—a cleaner version of "National Lampoon's European Vacation." Although modern audiences have found it slow, it was among the highest grossing movies released in 1962 and made $11,000,000.

What does “hoi polloi” mean?

Hoi polloi is frequently mistaken to mean “the rich people,” but in Greek, it literally translates, “the many.” Also, some argue that “the hoi polloi” is redundant since “hoi” means “the.”

What does “carte blanche” mean?

“Carte blanche” is from the French phrase that literally translates, “white card.” However, it was originally “charte blanche” or a “white charter,” which was a peace agreement drawn up after one side surrendered. In novels, it has come to mean an agreement with a woman where she is a man's mistress but has free access to his money.

What does “à la mode” mean?

This French phrase literally meaning “in the fashion” is one of the first foreign phrases to enter English and initially was “alamode”—a type of black silk. Americans began using the phrase around the early 1900s to also mean “with ice cream.”

Which of the following means “the main items in the preceding statement can be switched?”

“Many who seem to be friends actually are not friends, and vice-versa: Without being friends, some are real friends.” -Democritus

What does “doppelganger” mean?

“Over time, we all become our own doppelgänger. We look the same, but we’re completely different people.” – Ted, How I Met Your Mother

What foreign phrase does the abbreviation “etc.” stand for?

“Et cetera” or its abbreviation, “etc.” means “other things not specified.” It comes from the Latin phrase meaning “and the rest.”

What does “tête-à-tête” mean?

William Hogarth made a series of engravings titled “Marriage A-la-Mode.” The second in the series, called “Tête-à-Tête,” shows the breakdown of an arranged marriage almost from the start. Hogarth’s packed his paintings with symbolism reflecting social criticism.

What does "hara kiri” mean?

The first recorded instance of ritual suicide in Japan occurred in the Battle of Uji when Minamoto no Yorimasa used it to avoid capture. The female counterpart of the ritual was jigai — often used by women to avoid rape and torture after a lost battle. In Japan, it is called “seppuku” but was Anglicized to “hara kiri.”

Which of the following means “in an artificial living environment.”

“In vitro” comes from the Latin phrase meaning “in glass.” It usually denotes growing cells in a petri dish or test tube.

What does “alter ego” mean?

This phrase derives from the Latin phrase meaning “other I.” Cicero was the first philosopher to develop the idea of a second self, and it has been used in literature for characters like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as throughout comic books when superheroes take on a human persona.

What does “gung ho” mean?

“To be candid, some people have given positive thinking a bad name. I can’t stand to hear some gung ho individual say that with positive thinking you can just do anything. If you think about that one for a moment, you recognize the absurdity of it.” – Zig Ziglar, encourager and founder of the Zig Ziglar Corporation

What does “hakuna matata” mean?

“Hakuna matata” is a Swahili phrase that means “there are no problems here.” It was made popular after the Disney movie, "The Lion King," was released in 1994.

What does “kindergarten” mean?

“Kindergarten children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.” – Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"

Which of the following means “stiffness of muscles after death”?

Rigor mortis, from the Latin for “stiffness of death,” usually occurs two to six hours after death. Many things can affect its time span, including temperature and body pH, but once it occurs, it can help determine if a body has been moved after death.

What does hors d’oeuvre mean?

From the French phrase for “outside of work,” the hors d’oeuvre is meant to stimulate the appetite before the main meal. An aperitif is another type of appetizer that is a drink (generally alcoholic) served prior to a meal.

What foreign phrase does the abbreviation “R. S. V. P.” stand for?

In days when sending invitations and replying to them is simply a point-and-click affair, many social commentators complain about the difficulty of planning parties where few respond, and people who do are fickle about sticking to their response. One journalist stated he invited 65 people to his party: Only 18 replied, and 50 showed up. Missing from the party was one person who said he was coming and requested a special menu item.

What does “non sequitur” mean?

"Non Sequitur" is the name of a comic strip written by Wiley Miller focusing on everyday life controversies and absurdities. It is syndicated in more than 700 newspapers.

What does “déjà vu” mean?

Some believe déjà vu occurs when your body confuses a repetition of identical feelings in a new place with having been there before. Jamais vu is the opposite of déjà vu and means you feel as if you have never been to a place when you have been there.

Which of the following is a dangerously seductive woman?

The term, “femme fatale” did not come into popular use until the 1900s. It usually refers to women who convince men to commit crimes, such as Kate “Ma” Baker, but other uses have included women who kill their husbands, such as Brynhild Paulsdatter “Bell” Gunness, or other female criminals, such as Countess Bathory, Stephanie “Queenie” St. Clair, and Aileen Wuornos.

A man who says “Et tu, Brute?” is making what kind of statement?

Shakespeare uses this phrase as the line last spoken by Julius Caesar. Marcus Brutus was a former friend of Caesar’s who led a group of senators to assassinate him.

What does “avant-garde” mean?

Paul Valéry was a philosopher, poet, and essayist around the turn of the 19th century. He is attributed with saying, “Everything changes but the avant-garde.”

When dates are written with the abbreviation “A. D.” what foreign phrase does it represent?

A. D. is supposed to be placed before a date and B. C. after it. In modern times, some scholars insist on using B. C. E. and C. E. (Before Common Era and Common Era), but the irony is that in changing the abbreviations, they have not changed the calendar. Since A. D. and B. C. denote the use of the Christian calendar, using its original abbreviations only helps clarify which dating system it is.

What does “coup d’état” mean?

“It is ironic that a nation that has never experienced a coup d’état should be so obsessed with the idea of conspiracy.” – Gore Vidal, Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship (1969).

What which of the following means ”high quality?”

“Cordon bleu” is from the French for “blue ribbon.” It appeared in English in 1727 and sometimes refers to a dish made with chicken and ham.

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About This Quiz

We challenge you to ace this foreign phrases quiz. 

It was bound to happen. As the world got smaller, and explorers traveled the globe and set up communities in foreign lands, they brought some of their lingo with them. Now, we're not talking about learning entire languages, but rather the tendency for one geographical area to incorporate some phrases from other geographical areas into their everyday language. For instance, there are several Spanish and French phrases that have crept into English and are commonly used. The interesting thing is that many people don't even realize that these phrases have their origins in other languages. If you think you know what we're talking about, read on.

Foreign phrases commonly used in English include "faux pas," "a la mode," and "deja vu." These phrases are French in origin, and if you know that they refer to making a mistake, putting ice cream on your pie, and the feeling of having experienced or done something before, then you're probably pretty foreign phrase savvy. But do you know what R.S.V.P means? It's an acronym for another French phrase (hey, we see a trend here) which is "repondez s’il vous plait" and means please respond.

Think you know all of our foreign phrases used in English? Take this quiz to find out.

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