Commonly Used Foreign Words

Foreign expressions are commonly used in English (especially written English). The reason for this is mostly stylistic. However, you may come across these in your readings as you build up your language skills, and you might want to add a little “flavor” to your own writing. Be warned: using these incorrectly or excessively will alert the reader that you are trying to impress with fancy language to cover up the fact that your content is lacking substance. Use these sparingly.

All the expressions in this list are of Latin or French origin. We will add more expressions in the future to reflect the globalization of the English language.

1. Pro temtemporary: for the present time (not permanent)

In light of Mr. Fern’s resignation, we have appointed Ms. Kelly of the accounting department to the post of CFO, pro tem. We will begin interviewing for a new, full time CFO next week.

2. pro bonofor free: work, especially of a professional nature, done for free as a donation of one’s time
Many successful doctors and lawyers do pro bono work as a way to give back to the community.

3. mea culpaI am to blame: an acknowledgement of fault; taking personal responsibility
The ex-minister issued a formal mea culpa to the press, but many doubted its sincerity.

4. per sein itself: Use this to mean that you are speaking of the thing in itself, regardless of the context
Allen isn’t a bad man, per se. He just comes across as a little mean sometimes.

5. vice versaturn around: When we want to show a reciprocal action or description (when the description goes both ways)
The rules apply to everyone who signs up for the competition. It goes without saying that all players need to show respect to the officials and vice versa (i.e., the official must show respect to the players)

6. bona fidein good faith; real/genuine: Something that is done in good faith (a bona fide offer); not fake
Mr. Reilly is a bona fide expert on the subject. We can trust his judgment on the matter at hand.

7. Quasi-resembling to some degree; like something, but not really
Many fourth-year college students seem quasi-intellectual, but a short conversation reveals their limited knowledge.

8. Verbatimin exactly the same words: To say something (e.g., a reading passage, a speech) using the same words as the original
Many middle school students in English-speaking countries are still required to recite a passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet verbatim.

9. status quothe state in which: when a situation or state of affairs remains unchanged
The top politicians decided that maintaining the status quo, though not ideal, was nevertheless better than any current alternative.

10. de factoin reality; actually: when a situation exists even if it is not formally recognized or sanctioned by government, society, etc.)
Though both sides deny involving their militaries in any confrontation, the press has been treating the territory as a de facto war zone.

11. ad hocfor this: for a specific purpose without further application; created for an immediate need from what is available
The memo to the staff cautioned them not to think of the ad hoc investigating committee any differently than the Board that had gathered them.

12. quid pro quosomething for something: something returned for something else (e.g., a favour for a favour)
My lawyer agreed to a quid pro quo scenario: he would represent me in court at no charge if I fixed his car.

13. aproposto the purpose: an introduction to a new topic that is somehow related to the one just discussed (more common in spoken English— by the way…); can also be used as an adjective, meaning appropriate
Though the reading was well intended, most of the audience did not consider the passage apropos to the situation. In fact, some thought it was rather rude.

14. Avant-gardegroup of people who lead in changes in an area (especially the arts); radically different, experimental
Picasso was considered an avant-garde painter because of his strange styles and approaches to art.

15. Carte blancheblank document: free room to move/decide; permission to act as one chooses
The incoming CEO has been given a carte blanche by the Board of Directors to do whatever is necessary to save the company.

16. Coup d’etatstroke of state: the sudden (and usually violent) overtaking of the government by a small group of people (often the military)
The military’s top General, tired of the ineffectiveness of the politicians in running the country, led a coup d’etat and instilled an interim leadership until elections could be held to choose a new Prime Minister.

17. Coup de gracestroke of mercy : the final blow or shot that kills a dying person or animal. Can also be used to describe the final action that finally destroys a weak thing or system
After a long, unproductive struggle by the protesters, the sit-in received its coup de grace in the form of the President’s ability to distract the press from the cause and leave the activists without an outlet.

18. Crème de la crèmecream of the cream: the best of the best (cream rises to the top of the milk)
The University heads handpicked the graduates they wanted to represent them at the conference in Milan. The attendees at the conference were supposedly the crème de la crème of the academic world.

19. Déjà vualready seen: the feeling that something has already been seen or heard before
Tom experienced a sense of déjà vu as he walked into the room. Everything seemed so familiar.

20. Fait accompliaccomplished fact: a completed act, something that is done and cannot be changed
The takeover is a fait accompli; there is no point complaining about it. We need to start thinking about how the transition will take place.

21. Faux pasfalse step: an error, usually in a social context; an embarrassing mistake
Sticking one’s chopsticks into a rice bowl is considered a major faux pas in Japan. Chopsticks standing in rice is reminiscent of incense sticks used to honour the dead.

22. Laissez-fairelet do: an approach by which people are left to do as they do; an economic policy of non-intervention by government in the working of the economy
Mr. Richards always claims that his success as manager of the firm comes from his laissez-faire approach with his staff; he only becomes directly involved when absolutely necessary.

23. Nouveau richenewly rich: someone who has recently become very wealthy and likes to spend money
Most of the members of the Society were not impressed by the newcomer’s spending habits. They were mostly “old money” and looked down on nouveau riche members who had not yet learned to appreciate their wealth.

24. Par excellenceby excellence: being the best example of the thing discussed
Mr. Charest is a chef par excellence, which is probably why his restaurant is booked for months in advance.

25. Raison d’etre reason for being: used when describing the essence of a thing’s existence
For many adults, their children are their raison d’etre. They would be lost if they didn’t have their children to look after.

26. RSVPrespondez s’il vous plaitPlease respond: A response that acknowledges that a person has received an invitation or notice to an event, along with an acceptance or rejection of this invitation
We ask that all interested parties RSVP before the end of the month so that we can make arrangements with the caterer.

27. Tete-a-tetehead to head: an intimate conversation involving two people
Alexandra and her daughter had a tete-a-tete to try to resolve their differences once and for all, as well as to the spare the rest of the family the sorrow of seeing them fight.

28. Vis-à-visface to face with: most commonly used to mean in relation to, i.e., when discussing a particular subject in relation to something else
We kindly request that all complaints vis-à-vis the building manager be directed toward the head office staff and not the manager herself.

29. ad nauseamto a sickening degree, excessive: when something is repeated too often/much
The guests showered compliments on their hosts ad nauseam.

30. Sanswithout: This French word is used for spice and emphasis
A good resume will be written in a straightforward manner, sans decoration and sales pitch.