English and French - by Robert Wilde.

Just for fun, let’s go on a linguistic adventure. As you will know, English is a language which owes its origins to many other languages, foremost of which are Norse, Germanic and French sources, along with some Celtic additions.

This is why it’s such fun, and absorbingly interesting, to trace the origins of certain words and idiomatic phrases in today’s English. They give you a potted history of the language – and the country, to a certain extent.

Shall we start just across the Channel in France?  

Clearly, there are many words which are identically spelt in both languages but you have to be careful sensible in English means to be careful, or logical or commonsensical in your approach to things, but in French, sensible means sensitive in English – too easily hurt, or painful to the touch.

Far more interesting, to my mind, are curious rebounds – where a word has come from French in to English, been sent back and reappeared.

A few hundred years ago, the French nobility played a game with ball and bat. When the server was ready to hit the ball, he shouted Tenez! meaning be ready to respond! This came to England, but changed into tennis. And the word tennis in English crossed back to France as le tennis. Players used to call the page boy to gather the ball by shouting service! And if a player scored no points they called l'œuf which means the or rather an egg. It came to English as love. We still use the French word deuce.

A few hundred year ago, we borrowed the French phrase double entendre which literally meant hear double. It refers to a phrase or word which can be understood in two different ways; often the second meaning is risqué, which more or less translates as risky, but in English we use the French word risqué to suggest something rude, especially about sex.

Double entendre died out in French – they now say double entente but continues happily in English, probably because the English like that type of earthy humour. It’s not to everybody’s taste, but chacun a son goût, as we say, another borrowing from French, meaning we all have different tastes.

There are a thousand more examples, but here is a menu. As you know, menus are often written in French in England, because they sound more tasty in French than in English. Frog’s Legs sounds fairly unpleasant in English but Cuisses de grenouille sounds gastronomically tempting – food for the gods!

People often laugh the idea of English cooking. There is a good reason for this – it used to be very bad. But those of you who have visited or live in the UK will see that cuisine here has improved remarkably – largely under foreign influences - and the national dish of GB now is surely curry or pizza or Chinese dishes, although fish and chips and roast beef are still of course very popular.

Schoolchildren used to pray before a meal –

For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful, Amen.’

This was hanged by generations of schoolboys to –

From what we are about to receive, may God save us.  Amen.’

A French Menu.

A menu of favourite English dishes, but translated into French.

Do you know them, or can you guess what they are? Bon appétit...

Les Hors d’Oeuvre (Hors d’oeuvres in English)

Les Entremets

The answers are all - often literally translated - British dishes.

Here are phrases with the word French which are commonly used in English:


There are many others. But why don’t you find some for yourselves!

And for hundreds of years, we have imported French phrases and words into our language:

Chic, haute couture, cuisine, terrine,  par excellence - well, you go and find some more!

Voilà! There you have it!  French has played an enormously important part in the formation of English. Most of our legal, clerical and intellectual vocabulary derives from our friends (?) across the English Channel.

Answers to A French Menu

Bulots à la sauce vinaigrette

Bigornaux  -  une pinte

L’Aspic d’anguille avec du pain d’hier


Les Entremets

Crapaud Dans le Trou -  pommes frites

Tourte de chaumière - pommes frites

Anges montés à cheval

Haricots blancs à la sauce de tomate, sur canapé

Doigts de poisson panés et dorés à l'anglaise

Morceau rare à la façon pays de Galle

Many of these dishes are served with pommes frites - chips. Spaghetti and chips is a popular dish in England.

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