Quiz: 30 Sensational Foreign Words and Phrases

Updated on January 19, 2018

We use foreign words and phrases regularly in English. You probably know many more of them than you are aware of. Here we have compiled a list of our favorites based on utility (can we use it a lot to great effect?) style (sometimes saying or writing something in another language is just more appropriate in the moment) and unique content (how else do you say coup d’etat?).

First off, before we start arguing and someone gets his feelings hurt, according to The Prentice Hall Reference Guide, either italics or underlining is preferred for foreign words and phrases. We prefer italics since we are writing in 2017 and not 1950, when the mechanics of italicizing often involved an entire additional typewriter. It was a much bigger deal that it is today. Look it up!

Two Nevers: never too many words, and never enough time to read them.
Two Nevers: never too many words, and never enough time to read them. | Source

Rules, Rules, Rules

The rule about when to use a foreign phrase rather than an English one is like the rule about when to paraphrase and when to quote. Use a foreign word when it communicates your idea more clearly and elegantly than the idea could be communicated in English just as you use a direct quote rather than a paraphrase when the quote expresses the idea more succinctly, clearly, and elegantly than a paraphrase could.

As you already know, in English, there is always a tricky part. Here it is. After belonging to our language for a length of time, words we have stolen become English words, no longer requiring italics. So, when we speak of chutzpah, we know it isn’t English, but for punctuation and usage concerns, we treat like it is.

In fact, all the words in this article were taken from American English dictionaries. Incidentally, chutzpah is from Yiddish and is a fine example of a word that fits the rule: it expresses unapologetic "audacity, courage, or nerve" more beautifully and clearly than this sentence, or any other word, does.


Foreign Fare

  1. Ab ovo: adverb, ab-OH-voh means “from the beginning.”
  2. Amanuenesis: noun, ə-măn′yo͞o-ĕn′sĭs meaning one who is employed to take dictation or to copy manuscript, makes the list because it sounds so pretty. It is a borrowed word, meaning that English speakers borrowed it from an existing language, so in that sense it is foreign, but it was stolen (in polite linguist terms, borrowed) so long ago that it isn’t considered foreign anymore.
  3. Apropos: preposition, ap-ruh-POH means with regard to or concerning.
  4. Billet-doux: noun, bill-ee-DOO is a love letter.
  5. Bona fides: noun, boh-nuh-FYE-deez is good faith and sincerity, the fact of being genuine.
  6. Cachet: noun, ka-SHAY is a seal used especially as a mark of official approval.
  7. Copacetic: adjective, koh-puh-SET-ik means very satisfactory.
  8. Coup d’etat: noun, kü-(ˌ)dā-ˈtä is a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics, especially the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group.
  9. Coup de grace: noun, something (as a fact or argument) that is decisive or overwhelming. Today we would call it a dropped microphone, which just isn’t as smooth.
  10. Coup d'essai: French noun phrase, kü-dā-se is a first attempt, experiment, or trial.
  11. Elan: noun, ay-LAHN is vigorous spirit or enthusiasm.
  12. Gallimaufry: noun, gal-uh-MAW-free is a heterogeneous mixture or jumble.
  13. Gauche: adjective, GOHSH is lacking social experience or grace, not tactful, crude.
  14. Gesellschaft: noun, ge·sell·schaft is a rationally developed mechanistic type of social relationship characterized by impersonally contracted associations between persons. It is also a community or society characterized by this relationship — compare gemeinschaft.
  15. Gemeinschaft: noun, ge·mein·schaft is a spontaneously arising organic social relationship characterized by strong reciprocal bonds of sentiment and kinship within a common tradition. It is also a community or society characterized by this relationship — compare gesellschaft.
  16. Holus-bolus: adverb, hō-ləs-ˈbō-ləs means all at once.
  17. Hors de combat: adverb or adjective, or-duh-kohng-BAH means out of combat, disabled.
  18. Joie d vivre: noun, ˌzhwä-də-ˈvēvrᵊ is a keen or buoyant enjoyment of life.
  19. Kibitzer: noun, KIB-it-ser is one who looks on and often offers unwanted advice or comment.
  20. Loup-garou: noun, loup-ga·rou is an old-fashioned werewolf.
  21. Meshuggener: noun, muh-SHUG-uhner is a foolish or crazy person.
  22. Qui vive: noun, kē vēv′ means to be on the alert.
  23. Quid pro quo: noun, kwid-proh-KWOH, made infamous in Silence of the Lambs, it means something given or received for something else, a deal arranging such an exchange.
  24. Quixotic: adjective, kwĭk-sŏt′ĭk means to be caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.
  25. Skosh: noun | SKOHSH a small amount, bit, or smidgen.
  26. Soi-disant: adjective, swah-dee-ZAHNG means self-proclaimed, so-called
  27. Vade mecum: noun, vay-dee-MEE-kum is a book for ready reference, a manual.
  28. Weltanschauung: noun, VELT-ahn-show-ung ("ow" as in "cow") means a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.
  29. Zeitgeist: noun, TSYTE-gyste (often capitalized Zeitgeist) refers to the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.
  30. Ziggurat: noun, ZIG-uh-rat is an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top.

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As always, it has been a pleasure writing for you. Drop by and see us every chance you get. We'll leave the site on for ya!

Questions & Answers


    Submit a Comment
    • profile image

      S Maree 

      2 years ago

      Keep collecting! I'm happy to read and learn!

    • Dunbar Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Green 

      2 years ago from New Mexico


      The list got away with me, too. I can't seem to stop collecting words into lists now. I fear that if we really wrote a list of all the foreign words and phrases in English, we wouldn't have many words that didn't make the list! Thank you for your comment.

    • Dunbar Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Green 

      2 years ago from New Mexico

      Thank you S Maree. I made the adjustment that Flourish suggested. I did have that one comment that was sure a doozy, but the others are erudite and salient, just as I had hoped. Thanks again.

    • profile image

      S Maree 

      2 years ago

      Hello! The comment Flourish mentioned was removed. It had nothing to do with your excellent article. Someone must have piggybacked into your system inappropriately.

      I agree with Flourish that vetting comments would be a good idea. You deserve better!

    • Dunbar Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Green 

      2 years ago from New Mexico

      Flourish, thanks for the info. I didn't know about the comments setting. I had great fun writing that quiz, too.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      Loved this! The quiz was quite a bit of fun as well. You may want to switch your comments so that they have to be approved before they can be seen. It will make some of those spammy people go away. I hope I’m not kibitzing!

    • profile image

      S Maree 

      2 years ago

      Hello Richard Green!

      Pulled out Mr. Webster's compendium for broader definitions of your words. Was pleased to add them to my vocabulary.

      Thankfully, English (and all the "borrowings") is my native tongue. However, as a mid-west American, I was brought up in an era where knowledge of a foreign tongue was considered superfluous. A gilding to one's resume, but hardly necessary.

      Now, in my multi-cultural neighborhood, I am at a distinct disadvantage. Wish I was given the option for Spanish; would have been very helpful. And my neighbors put me to shame with the way they assimilate English.

      Winston Churchill inspired me to be competent in English.

      But, as you explained so well, English is a multi-lingual argot. With the exception of basic Anglo-Saxon ( and a smidgen of Celtic) building-block words, most of the language is of foreign extraction.

      Oh! I pine for the Oxford English Dictionary and all its intriguing special editions! Maybe if I win a jackpot or discover a rich relative with no heirs. . . !

      Thank you for this richly informative and amusing treatise!

    • Rupert Taylor profile image

      Rupert Taylor 

      2 years ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

      How about kindergarten, bungalow, entrepreneur, lingerie, delicatessen, guerrilla, bonanza. I could go on and on, and thank goodness I have decided not to.


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