Five? Three? Zero? I gave it some thought, and came up with six.
The other day I heard “nom de plume” and “fait accompli” in the span of a few hours. Nom de Plume was from something I saw on Facebook, related to the Aladdin street rat song. I heard “fait accompli” on sports radio. It struck me that I hadn’t heard either of these before, and I wondered what the best French phrases are that we use in conversation. So I took the few that I knew, the two I had just learned, and researched a few more, and came up with the short list of the best French phrases used in English conversation.
Let me also distance myself and this post from anything political or even cultural regarding the French. All I’m interested in is the influence of a few French language phrases on American English, so don’t take it for anything more. Think of it like early Springsteen - block out his later politics if you like, and just enjoy Growin Up.
Nom De Plume - "pen name"
This is actually a stretch to ever pepper into conversation, but it was a great piece of useless knowledge that I picked up, and the fact that it came via Aladdin - One Jump Ahead was tremendous. The line is: “One jump ahead of the slowpokes/One skip ahead of my doom/Next time gonna use a nom de plume”
Wiktionary tells us that this means “An accomplished fact, something that has already occurred; a done deal” I heard it when Mike Greenberg on ESPN Radio said that he thought Mike Rice’s firing was a fait accompli the moment the Outside the Lines video aired. How’s this one: it’s a fait accompli I’ll get made fun of for this blog post. See, it’s easy!
Bon Iver - "good winter"
Everyone will recognize this phrase from the band, who happen to be one of my favorite bands currently. The band is named for the greeting which means “Good Winter”, which isn’t really French but French-Canadian. Actually, while it may be French-Canadian, the singer first heard it said in Alaska so suck it Canada and France! ‘Merica!
But anyway, in Alaska when the first snowfall hits, presumably in August, everyone comes out into the town square and takes some time to recognize the onset of winter and wishes everyone a “Bon Iver”. To wish someone well at the beginning of a new season is a great thought that escapes us in English, and never do we need it more than at the for Winter. Nobody needs to be wished a “good summer”...you’re damn right I’m gonna have a good summer! But winter? I’ll take all the warm wishes I can get.
Speaking of “good summer”, I guess the one exception is at the end of school years, particularly in yearbooks. HAKAS.
Bon Vivant - "a good liver"
A Bon Vivant is “a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially with respect to food and drink”. It literally translates as “a good liver”. While there isn’t a man or woman among us who would claim to have a good liver, or claim to have the money to have cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes, I really like the idea of being a good liver. It’s more of a frame of mind than anything else, as far as I’m concerned. I like to eat heartily and drink with great gusto - am I a Bon Vivant? Sure. You know who else was a Bon Vivant? John Steinbeck:
“For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard or too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy, and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”
-Travels With Charley
Okay, so maybe “cultivated, refined taste” wasn’t exactly Steinbeck, but there’s no doubt he was a great liver.
And Bon Vivant is also funny to use jokingly, ya know, like ironical..
“Hey FranT, you’re a Bon Vivant, where do you think we should go tonight?...The River’s Edge? A lovely idea!”
Carte Blanche “blank check”
Meaning blank check, free reign, total control, etc...I had actually never heard this phrase until I asked my boss if I could take up a project in the office and he said “well I can’t give you carte blanche, but let’s talk about it”, to which I said “oh...thanks” and raced back to my computer to figure out what the hell it meant.
For the record, I have never had carte blanche in pretty much any sense of the term, but it’s something to aspire to I guess. If you have carte blanche, it’s gotta be pretty easy to be a bon vivant.
Creme De La Creme “the cream of the cream”
Meaning the best of the best, superb. The French have a way with words don’t they? This right here, this is the cream...OF THE CREAM. Most people prefer “the cream of the crop”, but creme de la creme has a certain moronic feel to it that I just love.
You start wondering about French phrases, and before you know it you've got The Boss, Aladdin, and Steinbeck. Thanks for sticking with me, au revoir!