Foreign Words and Phrases you should know!

There are many foreign words, phrases and classical references used in current English. To cite some are:

  1. A cappella – without instrumental music
  2. A fortiori – with greater reason or more convincing force —used in drawing a conclusion that is inferred to be even more certain than another
  3. A la (à la) – in the style of
  4. A la carte – with a separate price for each item on the menu
  5. A la mode  – topped with ice cream; stylish or fashionable
  6. A posteriori – relating to what can be known by observation rather than through an understanding of how certain things work
  7. A priori – relating to what can be known through an understanding of how certain things work rather than by observation
  8. Ab initio  – from the beginning
  9. Accoutrement – a piece of clothing or equipment that is used in a particular place or for a particular activity
  10. Achilles heel – a fault or weakness that causes or could cause someone or something to fail
  11. Ad hoc  – for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application
  12. Ad hominem (usage) – appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect; marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made
  13. Ad infinitum – without an end or limit
  14. Ad lib(itum) – in accordance with one’s wishes; without restraint or limit
  15. Ad nauseam – to a sickening or excessive degree
  16. Adonis  – a very handsome young man
  17. Aegis – the power to protect, control, or support something or someone
  18. Affidavit – a written report which is signed by a person who promises that the information is true
  19. Aficionado  – a person who likes and knows a lot about something
  20. Agent provocateur – a person employed to encourage people to break the law so that they can be arrested
  21. Agitprop – political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art
  22. Aide memoire  – an aid to the memory; especially :  a mnemonic device; a written summary or outline of important items of a proposed agreement or diplomatic communication
  23. Alfresco – in the open air
  24. Alibi – an excuse usually intended to avert blame or punishment
  25. Alpha and omega – the beginning and ending
  26. Ambiance – the mood or feeling of a particular place
  27. Amok – a murderous frenzy that has traditionally been regarded as occurring especially in Malaysian culture
  28. Amour proper – self-esteem
  29. Anathema – someone or something that is very strongly disliked
  30. Ancien regime – a system or mode no longer prevailing
  31. Annus horribilis – a disastrous or unfortunate year
  32. Annus mirabilis  – a remarkable or notable year
  33. Ante – cost, price; risk, stakes
  34. Ante bellum – occurring in the southern U.S. during the time before the American Civil War
  35. Aphrodisiac – something (such as a food, drink, or drug) that causes or increases sexual desire
  36. Apropos – at an opportune time :  seasonably; by way of interjection or further comment :  with regard to the present topic
  37. Attaché – a person who works at an embassy as an expert on a particular subject
  38. Au contraire – on the contrary
  39. Au courant – knowing about the newest information, trends, etc.; stylish or current
  40. Au fait – to the point :  fully competent :  fully informed :  socially correct
  41. Au naturel – in a natural state
  42. Avant-garde – a group of people who develop new and often very surprising ideas in art, literature, etc.
  43. Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah – the former is a ceremony and celebration for a Jewish boy on his 13th birthday when he takes on the religious duties and responsibilities of an adult; the latter is a ceremony and celebration for a Jewish girl usually on her 13th birthday when she takes on the religious duties and responsibilities of an adult
  44. Belle vs beau – the former is a noun for a gorgeous female, sometimes signified as the most gorgeous at a particular gathering; the latter is French and literally means handsome or beautiful in the masculine form.
  45. Berserk – one whose actions are recklessly defiant
  46. Bête noire – a person or thing that someone dislikes very much
  47. Blitz – a military attack in which many bombs are dropped from airplanes; a fast and powerful effort
  48. Blitzkrieg – a sudden and overwhelming military attack; a fast and powerful effort
  49. Bona fide, bona fides – the former means made or carried out in good faith or real or genuine; the latter means good faith, or credentials
  50. Bourgeois, bourgeoisie –the former means middle class person; the latter denotes the middle class as a whole, rather than just a middle-class person.
  51. Caesar’s wife – someone who is pure and honest in moral
  52. Canard – a false report or story : a belief or rumor that is not true
  53. Capiche, capeesh, capische, etc – (interjection) Do you understand?
  54. Carte blanche – permission to do something in any way you choose to do it
  55. Casus belli – an event or action that justifies or allegedly justifies a war or conflict
  56. Cause célèbre – a legal case or an event that a lot of people become interested in
  57. Caveat – a modifying or cautionary detail to be considered when evaluating, interpreting, or doing something; a legal warning to a judicial officer to suspend a proceeding until the opposition has a hearing
  58. C’est la vie –  that’s life :  that’s how things happen
  59. Ceteris paribus – if all other relevant things, factors, or elements remain unaltered
  60. Comme ci, comme ça – neither very good nor very bad; so-so
  61. Confidant vs. confidante – a trusted friend you can talk to about (conFIDANT); a woman who is a trusted friend (conFID
  62. Cordon sanitaire – a protective barrier (as of buffer states)
  63. Corpus delicti – the substantial and fundamental fact
  64. Coup d’état – a sudden decisive exercise of force in
  65. Coup de foudre – a sudden unforeseen event; love at first sight
  66. Coup de grace – a death blow administered to
  67. Crème de la crème – the very best
  68. Cri de Coeur – a passionate outcry
  69. Crise de conscience – agonizing period of moral uncertainty
  70. Cui bono? – to whose advantage?
  71. Cul de sac – a street that is designed to connect to another street only at one end
  72. Cum – along with being
  73. Danse macabre – dance of death
  74. De facto – in reality
  75. De jure – based on laws of the state
  76. De mortuis nil nisi bonum – to speak ill of the dead
  77. De rigueur – prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette or custom?
  78. Debacle – a great disaster or failure
  79. Déjà vu – a feeling that one has seen or heard something before
  80. Demeanor – behavior towards others
  81. Deo volente – God be willing
  82. Delphic (typically of a pronouncement) deliberately obscure or ambiguous.
  83. Dictum – a noteworthy statement
  84. Diktat – an order that must be followed
  85. Divorcée, divorcé, divorcee – a divorced woman
  86. Dolce vita – a life of indolence and self-indulgence
  87. Doppelgänger – a ghostly counterpart of a living person
  88. Double entendre – a word or expression capable of two interpretations
  89. Dragon’s teeth – seeds of strife
  90. Dreidel – a 4-sided toy marked with Hebrew letters and spun like a top in a game of chance
  91. Drivel – to talk in a very foolish or silly way
  92. Du jour – happening or popular at a particular time
  93. g. vs. i.e. – for example (e.g.); that is (i.e.)
  94. En masse – as a single group
  95. En route – on or along the way when you are going to a place
  96. En vogue, in vogue – something fashinable
  97. Entente cordiale  –a friendly agreement
  98. Ergo – therefore
  99. Erratum – error
  100. Ersatz – copied from something else and usually not as good as the original
  101. Esprit de corps – feeling of loyalty to a group among people who are members of the group
  102. Et al. – and others
  103. Et cetera (etc.) – a number of unspecified additional persons or things
  104. Ex officio – because of your job, position
  105. Ex post facto –with retroactive effect or force.
  106. Fabian tactics  – cautious tactics
  107. Fait accompli – something that has been done and cannot be changed
  108. Fatwah – a legal opinion handed down by an Islamic religion leader
  109. Faux pas – an embarrassing social mistake
  110. Femme fatale – a very attractive woman who causes trouble for the men who became involved with her
  111. Fiancé vs. fiancée – a man engaged to be married (fiancé); a woman engaged to be married (fiancée)
  112. Floreat – a group of flower buds that are part of a vegetable
  113. Force majeure – a superior or irresistible force
  114. Forte – one’s strong point
  115. Futz vs putz – fool around (futz); stupid or worthless person (putz)
  116. Gaudeamus – let us rejoice
  117. Gesundheit – used to wish good health to someone who has sneezed
  118. Jist – the common phonetic spelling of a United States Southerner’s way of saying ‘just’
  119. Gordian knot – an extremely difficult or involved problem.
  120. Gung-ho –  adapted from a Chinese phrase that means, literally, work together
  121. Habeas corpus – Latin loan phrase meaning, literally, “you shall have the body.”
  122. Halcyon days – Calm, peaceful days.
  123. Hara-kiri –  ritual suicide by disembowelment practiced by the Japanese samurai or formerly decreed by a court in lieu of the death penalty
  124. Hippocratic oath – oath historically taken by physicians
  125. Hoi polloi – an expression from Greek that means the many or, in the strictest sense, the majority
  126. Honoris causa – (Latin: “for the sake of the honor”) is an academic degree for which a university has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, study and the passing of examinations.
  127. Ibid vs idem – Ibid is an abbreviation of ibidem, a Latin word that means, literally, in the same place. Idem is also Latin, literally meaning the same.
  128. Imbroglio – a big mess of people or ideas, a complicated fight, or detailed scandal.
  129. Impasse – a situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock
  130. Imprimatur – an official licence issued by the Roman Catholic Church to print an ecclesiastical or religious book.
  131. In absentia – while not present at the event being referred to
  132. In extremis – in an extremely difficult situation.
  133. In memoriam – an article written in memory of a dead person; an obituary
  134. In toto – as a whole
  135. In vino veritas – under the influence of alcohol, a person tells the truth
  136. Incognito – having one’s true identity concealed
  137. Inter alia – among other things
  138. Interim – the intervening time
  139. Iota – an extremely small amoun
  140. Ipso facto – Latin for itself fact. In English, we use it as an adverb meaning by that very fact.
  141. Je ne sais quoi  – French for “I know not what.
  142. Kamikaze – reckless or potentially self-destructive
  143. Kaput – broken and useless; no longer working or effective
  144. Kowtow – to kneel and touch the forehead to the ground in expression of respect, worship, or submission
  145. Laissez-faire – the French loanword laissez faire has two main definitions: (1) the principle that government should not control business, and (2) the wish not to control others.
  146. Lingua franca – also known as a bridge language, trade language or vehicular language, is a language systematically used to make communication possible between persons not sharing a native language, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both native languages.
  147. Magnum opus – a great achievement—usually a great work of art, and especially one that is the single greatest work of someone’s artistic career
  148. Mandamus – Latin for “we order,” a writ which orders a public agency or governmental body to perform an act required by law when it has neglected or refused to do so.
  149. Mea culpa – Latin for through my own fault
  150. Memento mori – something, especially an object, that serves as a reminder of mortality
  151. Mens sana in corpora sano – a sound mind in a sound body.
  152. Mensch – refers to a decent, admirable person with many good qualities
  153. Midas touch – turned anything to gold
  154. Milieu – refers to a social environment, or sometimes more generally to any environment or location.
  155. Modus operandi (m.o, MO) – Latin for way of working
  156. Modus Vivendi  – way of living
  157. Monibus – latin term ‘omnibus’ mispelled, meaning all
  158. Moratorium – a temporary prohibition of an activity
  159. Muumuu – modern spelling of the noun referring to the loose unbelted dress
  160. Nebbish – primarily a noun referring to a weak-willed or feckless person, usually male and especially one who is socially inept and lacks self-confidence.
  161. Noblese oblige – French phrase literally meaning “Nobility obliges”.
  162. Noel or nowel – Noel, when capitalized is another name for Christmas. Nowel is the piece of a mold in the center which will make the final product hollow, or the lowermost part of a mold.
  163. Nom de plume  – pseudonym adopted by an author.
  164. Non sequitur  – pseudonym adopted by an author.
  165. Nota bene  – note well
  166. Nouveau riche – a term used to describe those whose wealth has been acquired either within their own generation or that of their parents.
  167. Nunchucks – For the word denoting the Okinawan weapon made of two sticks linked by a short chain or rope, nunchucks is by far the most common form in 21st-century English.
  168. Omerta  – a cultural expression and code of honor that places legitimate importance on a deep-rooted family sense of a code of silence, non-aggravation with authorities, and non-interference in the legal actions of others.
  169. Pandora’s box – an artifact in Greek mythology, taken from the myth of Pandora’s creation in Hesiod’s Works and Days.
  170. Papabile  – worthy of being or eligible to be pope.
  171. Par excellence – better or more than all others of the same kind. – meaning per day, is used in English to mean by the day, per day, reckoned on a daily basis, or paid by the day.
  172. Per diem – meaning per day, is used in English to mean by the day, per day, reckoned on a daily basis, or paid by the day.
  173. Per se – by, of, for, or in itself
  174. Persona non grata  – an unacceptable or unwelcome person
  175. Platonic – (of love or friendship) intimate and affectionate but not sexual.
  176. Pooh-bah – a person who has a lot of power in government, usually by holding several positions or offices at the same time.
  177. Prima facie – at first sight
  178. Primus inter pares – first among equals
  179. Pro bono  – denoting work undertaken for the public good without charge, especially legal work for a client with a low income
  180. Pro forma – as a matter of form or politeness
  181. Pro patria  – for one’s country
  182. Pros and cons  – the favorable and the unfavorable factors or reasons; advantages and disadvantages
  183. Protégé  – a person under the patronage, protection, or care of someone interested in his or her career or welfare.
  184. Proviso – a condition attached to an agreement
  185. Quasi – apparently, but not really; being partly or almost
  186. Quid pro quo – an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other
  187. Quorum – the minimum number of members of an assembly or society that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid
  188. RAIP/requiescat in pace – a short epitaph or idiomatic expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died
  189. Raison d’être – the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence
  190. Realpolitik – a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations
  191. Repertoire or repertory – the performance of various plays, operas, or ballets by a company at regular short intervals
  192. Requiem – a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead
  193. Restaurateur  – a person who owns and manages a restaurant
  194. Résumé – a brief account of a person’s education, qualifications, and previous experience, typically sent with a job application
  195. Rite de passage – ceremonies that mark important transitional periods in a person’s life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, having children, and death
  196. Sang froid – composure or coolness, sometimes excessive, as shown in danger or under trying circumstances
  197. Sans – without
  198. Savoir faire – the ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations
  199. Schadenfreude – pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
  200. Schmuck – a foolish or contemptible person.
  201. Shtick  – a gimmick, comic routine, style of performance, etc., associated with a particular person.
  202. Sic – used in brackets after a copied or quoted word that appears odd or erroneous to show that the word is quoted exactly as it stands in the original
  203. Simpatico – likeable and easy to get along with
  204. Sine die  – with no appointed date for resumption
  205. Sine qua non – an essential condition
  206. Skullduggery – underhanded or unscrupulous behavior; trickery.
  207. Smorgasbord – a wide range of something; variety
  208. Socratic – of or relating to Socrates or his philosophy.
  209. Spartan  – showing the indifference to comfort or luxury traditionally associated with ancient Sparta
  210. Sphinx – an enigmatic or inscrutable person.
  211. Status quo – the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues
  212. Stet – let it stand
  213. Stoic – a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining
  214. Sub judice  – under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere
  215. Sub rosa  – happening or done in secret
  216. Subpoena – a writ ordering a person to attend a court
  217. Sui generis – unique
  218. Summa cum laude or magna cum laude  – with the highest distinction
  219. Tabula rasa – an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate
  220. Take the mickey out of someone – make fun of someone
  221. Terra firma – dry land; the ground as distinct from the sea or air
  222. Tete-a-tete – a private conversation between two people
  223. Toilette – the process of washing oneself, dressing, and attending to one’s appearance
  224. Touché or touché  – used to acknowledge a hit in fencing or the success or appropriateness of an argument, an accusation, or a witty point
  225. Tour de force – an impressive performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill
  226. Triumvirate – a group of three powerful or notable people or things existing in relation to each other.
  227. Troika – a group of three people working together, especially in an administrative or managerial capacity
  228. Trojan – of or relating to ancient Troy in Asia Minor.
  229. Trojan horse – a person or thing intended secretly to undermine or bring about the downfall of an enemy or opponent
  230. Uber – denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing
  231. Ultra vires – beyond one’s legal power or authority
  232. Vamoose – depart hurriedly
  233. Verbatim – in exactly the same words as were used originally
  234. Verklempt – emotionally inhibited in a convulsive way
  235. Vice versa – with the main items in the preceding statement the other way around
  236. Vis-a-vis – in relation to
  237. Viva voce – oral rather than written
  238. Viz – namely; in other words
  239. Voilà  – used to call attention; express satisfaction or approval
  240. Vox populi – the opinions or beliefs of the majority
  241. Whirling dervish – a person whose behavior resembles a rapid, spinning object
  242. Wunderkind – a person who achieves great success when relatively young
  243. Zeitgeist – the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time






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