Foreign Phrases Commonly Used in English
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Phrase: cause célèbre

Meaning: a celebrated case

Language of Origin: French

Additional Information: Usually a legal case that generates widespread popular interest, possibly involving an element of scandal.

Example: “The press made it into a national cause célèbre.”

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Total No. of Phrases: 321

This a list of phrases of foreign origin which are more or less commonly used in English. It is not meant to be exhaustive, merely my personal selection of the most commonly encountered short phrases of foreign origin.

Often the meaning is very similar to that of the original language; sometimes it is quite different; sometimes there are subtle nuances or specific senses which the phrases carry in English which can affect their usage and their effect.

Generally speaking, the list does not include individual foreign words or “loanwords” from other languages (a loanword is one adopted from another language and completely or partially naturalized into the language, such as macho, blitz, euphoria, liaison or aperitif), other than a few examples where a loanword has certain shades of meaning or overtones which may require explanation (for example, aficionado, chutzpah, manqué, etc).

For each word, the language of origin is given, a basic translation, any additional information (which may include the literal translation, origins, specific senses and similar phrases) and my own example of the phrase in a sentence which hopefully helps explain its sense.

I am indebted to Tad Tuleja’s book “Foreignisms: A Dictionary of Foreign Expressions Commonly (and Not So Commonly) Used in English”, as well as to Wikipedia and, among other sources.

Please feel free to contact me about any phrases, definitions, or anything else on this webpage that you feel is incorrect, misleading, or just plain not working.

Just as an aside, I found it quite interesting while compiling this list to realize to what extent the phrases English utilizes are influenced by current or historical stereotypes of national characteristics. It is interesting just how many German words and phrases are connected to sociology and philosophy; how many Italian phrases food-based; how many French phrases deal with social class, fashion and art; how many Latin words deal with the law; how many Russian words relate to politics; and how many Yiddish words and phrases are insults! In general, a disproportionate number of the list as a whole seem to be mildly disparaging or sardonic.