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Foreign Phrases used in English

a la carte [French]

adj., adv. with a separate price for each item, printed on the menu; basically it is used to refer to the menu, as opposed to, say, a buffet

Can we eat a la carte?

Can we order from the a la carte menu?

alfresco [Italian]

adj., adv. open air; outdoors

We’ve been invited to an alfresco dinner at the Mughal Gardens.

Are we dining alfresco tonight?

alma mater [Latin]

n. any institution one has graduated from; in other words, one’s old school or university

I haven’t returned to my alma mater since the day I graduated.

avant-garde [French]

n. an artist or group associated with the use of new techniques in their field

Our friend is an avant-garde; we can’t really appreciate his work because it is too modern for us.

adj. of or pertaining to such an artist or group or (cutting edge, radically new) approach

His avant-garde work was found by the school to be unacceptable by their conventional standards.

Blitzkrieg [German]

n. rapid, intensive attack, originally used to describe sudden military offensives

MS Dhoni’s blitzkrieg at the end of yesterday’s match saved it for India.

bona fide [Latin]

adj. authentic, genuine, in good faith

Is the painting by MF Hussain on your wall bona fide?

He is not a dishonest salesman; his offer is bona fide.

c’est la vie [French]

that’s life; such is life

I don’t allow myself to get depressed; I just say ‘C’est la vie!’ and move on.

curriculum vitae (CV) [Latin]

n. resume, i.e., outline of one’s educational and professional qualifications, made for job applications

Have you got your CV ready for the interview tomorrow?

de facto [Latin]

adv. in reality, actually

The result of the elections was, de facto, simply a public verdict on the government’s complacency during the riots; despite the absence of real alternatives, the incumbent government was displaced.

adj. existing whether legally recognised or not

While the President may be referred to as the Head of the State, the de facto head in India, as everyone knows, is the Prime Minister.

déjà vu [French]

n. the sensation of having previously experienced something that one is experiencing

I experienced déjà vu when I entered the kitchen, even though I was fully aware that I had never been in that house before.

en route [French]

adv. on the way

I’ve just left, I’m en route for the auditorium.

ergo [Latin]

conj. therefore; consequently

Neither side was willing to play in such terrible conditions; ergo, there would no match.

faux pas [French]

n. social blunder

I committed a faux pas the other day when I went to a formal dinner dressed up for a costume party.

fiasco [Italian]

n. total failure

The party was a fiasco; the lights went out 10 minutes into the affair, and three people got injured trying to feel their way around in the dark.

guerrilla [Spanish]

n. a member of an irregular army operating in a territory under the control of a hostile force, i.e the enemy; their warfare is generally hit-and-run, employing sudden attacks and sabotages because they are fewer in number

The guerrillas threatened to overthrow the government of the state.

adj. pertaining to guerrillas or their methods of warfare

The troops, bested in the open, fled to the forests, resorting to guerrilla tactics.

joie de vivre [French]

joy in living

It is rare that one is able to experience true joie de vivre once one is past one’s youth.

klutz [Yiddish]

n. a clumsy person

I behaved like a klutz at the party, tripping and spilling my drinks all over the place.

lingua franca [Italian]

n. common language

English is the lingua franca of the world by virtue of the fact that is spoken in the largest number of countries.

nee [French]

adj. born; used for the maiden name of a married woman

Aishwarya Bacchan nee Rai

par excellence [French]

adj. the best at something

It was clear from the beginning that Sachin Tendulkar was a batsman par excellence.

per capita [Latin]

adj., adv. per person

The per capita income of the country was very high.

Indian earning per capita is much higher abroad than it is at home.

per se [Latin]

adv. in itself

The statement was interesting per se; it did not make much sense in context, however.

prima donna [Italian]

n. temperamental entertainer

Be on your best behaviour around her; she’s known to be quite the prima donna.

Realpolitik [German]

n. opportunistic politics that concerns itself with ground realities, with self-advancement as the sole driving principle

Considerations of realpolitik drove me to campaign relentlessly, pandering to the masses to garner votes.

status quo [Latin]

n. the existing state of things

The point of having her elected was for the reigning party to perpetuate the status quo.

tabula rasa [Latin]

n. blank slate

A child’s mind is like tabula rasa; it is very important to ensure that it is not exposed to harmful influences.

terra firma [Latin]

n. hard, firm ground

I was very scared the first time I travelled in an airplane; I drew my first breath of relief when we landed back on terra firma.

tete-a-tete [French]

n. a private, intimate conversation

I managed to sneak a tete-a-tete with him during the trip about his daughter’s nightly wanderings.

adv. face-to-face, intimate

We talked tete-a-tete in the morning; he had some great insights, I was glad that we had the talk.

vis-à-vis [French]

adv., adj. face-to-face

They sat vis-à-vis across the table.

They had a vis-à-vis talk about Kevin, who was showing signs of psychopathy early in his childhood.

prep. in relation to

His role vis-à-vis the recent match was that of a game-changer.

Zeitgeist [German]

n. the intellectual outlook or spirit characteristic of a particular time period or generation

The zeitgeist today seems to hint towards a Leftist overthrow of government.