French-Inspired Slang That Makes English Sound Très Chic

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By one estimate, 29% of English vocabulary comes from French, merci beaucoup. Another 29% comes from Latin, of which French is, essentially, a modern form.

As if that's not enough, English has straight up lifted many other expressions directly from French. And, where it hasn't borrowed, English has repurposed the language of love for its various needs—especially in the romance department.

So, we've gathered some French-inspired expressions and slang words that will have you saying ooh-la-la because everyone wants to speak a foreign language, right? Especially one that sounds so enticing.

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ooh-la-la

ooh-la-la a great place to start. Many Anglophones associate this expression with romance and sexual attraction, ever stereotyped as the métier of the French. Your partner steps out of the boudoir wearing something risqué and—ooh-la-la!

The expression is from the French oh là là, and, for Francophones, it isn't necessarily sexy. In its friendliest form, oh là là can convey delighted surprise, but it especially shows frustration. And the more là's there are, the more annoyed the speaker is. Oh là là là là là là!

Speaking of expressing love and romance …

mon chéri

Mon chéri is a classic example of a French expression used in English for romantic flair. It means "my dear" or "sweetheart" and is a term of endearment for a male person someone is fond of, romantically or platonically. The female equivalent is ma chérie.

Mon chéri is used to add some French éclat to English speech or writing, like a fancier way to say my boo or honey. While the expression is properly written with an acute accent over the E in chéri, English often drops it. English users are also likely to use mon cheri for men or women, unlike the French.

Mon chéri isn't only used for romantic attraction, though. It can be used as a term of endearment for children too, in both English and French.

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Amourshipping

We all know amour is French, right. But, in this case, this French word for "love," amour, shows up in a world that might seem far from Paris: Pokémon.

In the anime series PokémonAmourshipping (frequently capitalized) refers to fan theories, fiction, and art about a romantic relationship between the characters Ash and Serena. The word is a blend of the French word amour and shippingAmour was chosen because Ash and Serena travel through a region called Kalos, which is French-inspired. Shipping is a slang term in many fan communities for taking an emotional interest in the romantic relationship between two fictional characters or famous people.

D'aww, adorable! But, not all French-inspired slang words are so cute …

the clap

If you've got a burning in your loins—and not in a desirous, metaphorical way—you might want go to the doctor to get checked out for the clapThe clap is a very old slang term for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), generally gonorrhea. It is said to come from the 13th-century French clapoire, or clapier in Modern French, meaning “rabbit hutch.” And we all know about rabbits.

Later, clapoire was extended as a term for “brothel,” where one might contract an STD, lending clapoire as a term for such an illness or the sores that come with it. Clapoire is found in English as clap by the 1560s. Some people say it came from an (un-evidenced) medieval practice of clapping one’s genitalia with the hands or another object to reduce the pain of swelling and somehow cure the disease. Uh, OK.

In contemporary English, the clap most commonly refers to gonorrhea, but it can also be used to describe almost any STD that makes your nether regions burn.

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c'est la vie

C’est la vie literally means “this is the life” in French, taken as “that’s life.” Found in French well before, the expression was borrowed into English by the 1880s.

While modern French speakers certainly understand the phrase, c’est la vie is especially common among English speakers, especially in the face of minor setbacks. (Actual French speakers would more likely say c'est la guerre, which means "it is the war," or tant pis, "too bad.")

In everyday speech and writing, people usually issue a c’est la vie to shrug off slight disappointments or signal resigned acceptance of some unpleasant affairs or facts.

Another French expression that English speakers still use, even though it's not really au courant (current) with actual French speakers is …

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sacré bleu

The term sacré bleu is a dated, stereotypical French expression meant to express astonishment, shock, or amazement. In historical France, Christians were worried about people taking their lord’s name in vain. So, they proposed all kinds of alternatives to saying such expressions as Mon Dieu! (“My God!”) like morbleu and parbleu, akin to English euphemisms like golly or gosh for God.

Bleu, meaning “blue” in French, rhymes with Dieu, making it a handy way to avoid blasphemy. One of these ways to avoid explicitly swearing was sacrebleu. Typically written in French as one word and without an accent, sacrebleu is attested to as early as 1552, although it didn’t really catch on until the early 19th century. Sacré in French means “sacred,” so taken together, sacrebleu, literally means “Holy blue!” instead of sacré Dieu (“Holy God!”)

By 1805, sacrebleu, written variously as sacré bleu or sacre bleu in English, was used in writings by the British about French people. In order to show how French a person or character was, they might sprinkle in a sacré bleu as an exclamation into the text. Ironically, sacrebleu as a minced oath dropped largely out of use in French in the mid-1900s. But, that hasn’t stopped Anglophone writers from using it as a mark of stereotypical Frenchness.

You might even say that an English-speaker who says sacrebleu is a …

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poseur

The word poseur in English is something of a poser.

The verb poser in French means “to place” or “to set.” In 17th-century French, a poseur (a personal noun form) referred to "someone who placed objects, typically in the construction sense, such  as someone who paves roads or installs floor tiles." This meaning persists and was the main meaning of poseur until the mid-19th century.

The word poseur entered English by 1869 in its sense of “one who practices affected attitudes.” By the early 20th century, poseur was in widespread use in English to describe someone who pretended to be something they were not, especially someone who is superficial and trendy.

Using poseur—often Anglicized as poser— as an insult remains a trademark of any alternative or underground scene, particularly skating, punk, goth, and geek subcultures. Calling someone a poser implies they don’t really know or care about all the nuances of, say, Star Trek the way a real trekkie would. Of course, labelling someone a poser might give them …

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ennui

The word ennui comes from an old French word meaning “profound sadness, chagrin, or disgust.” Among French speakers, ennui can also refer to “disagreeableness.” It comes from a Latin word that also gives us the word annoy.

English borrowed ennui by the 1660s to express a “weary boredom” that results from dissatisfaction or idleness. A 1778 definition of bore describes it as a “thing which causes ennui or annoyance.” Like in French, ennui became used in English to describe a feeling of discontent almost as if it were an actual object. It usually connotes a kind of wistful listlessness.

Ennui is hard to define in English. It has an ineffable French-ness that you might even refer to as a certain …

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je ne sais quoi

Je ne sais quoi literally means "I don't know what" in French. The phrase was borrowed into English as early as the 1650s as "an expression of a quality that makes something or someone attractive, distinctive, or special in some way, but is hard to put into words."

Often phrased a certain je ne sais quoi, the saying is similar to the English expression a certain something, although the original French has a kind of je ne sais quoi all its own, don’t you think?

Je ne sais quoi continued on in English through the centuries, used widely in speech and writing as a learned expression that can lend a text or utterance a sophistication—or pretentiousness. The “special sauce” that je ne sais quoi conveys is almost always positive or desirable in some way.

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double entendre

double entendre is a word or expression that can be understood in two ways, especially when one meaning is risqué. If you've ever cracked a that's what she said joke, you've created a double entendre.

In the French of the 16th century, double entendre was an expression meaning “double understanding” or “ambiguity”—something that could be construed in two ways. Its modern French form is double entente (like double intent), but double entendre became fixed in English at least since it was used by John Dryden in his 1673 comedic play Marriage à la Mode.

By the early 19th century, double entendre honed in on its wordplay sense, especially sexual innuendo ... bringing us right back to ooh-la-la.

Au revoir!

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