The Words We Stole : French Etymologies (“Frenchymologies”?)

Bonjour !

The French language drew from different sources through history. We have words derived from Latin, Ancient Greek, German, and other languages.

Knowing the roots can help you understand the variation of the word and your understanding of the french language. In this episode we’ll go back in time, to find out the etymology of our most common words.

Et toi ?
What are the main roots of your own language?
Which French words have you assimilated?
Which words of your language have you found in French?

Bonne journée,


Join the conversation!

  • I was most fascinated with your video! In particular I was fascinated by your presentation concerning controversies around the idea of the adoption of loan-words. It occurred to me that yours was not the only instance of a term defining a people coming from outside! The “Hindus” and “India” itself are, in a sense, loan-words from Greek for South Asians; both terms originate from adjacent cultures, but also originate from a single South Asian word, “Sindhu”, which denotes the ancient major river that divided the Middle East from South Asia, or “Asia Minor”. The original term came to be adopted across the middle east as the “Hindu”, due to the fact that the earlier sibilant was reinterpreted as a guttural consonant. And when that same term arrived in Greece, the initial “H” was dropped as a silent aspirant, so that the term became “Indu”, from which we derive “India”.

    I am no less fascinated then by the fact that the Germans gave France its name! Apparently this is a thing that happens!

  • La langue russe est pleine de mots français, car celle-là était la lingue des élites en Russie pendant quelques siècles.
    Sauf les mots communs comme vis-à-vis, tête-à-tête ou déjà-vu, il y a plein d’autres (certains ont même change leurs sens de plus ou moins)
    Par exemple:
    Фуршет (vient de “fourchette”) – un buffet cocktail
    Пандус (“pente douce”) – une rampe d’accès
    Шезлонг (“chaise longue”) – une chaise transat

  • Canadian / Qubec French tries to avoid anglicisms, using words like “stationnement” for parking, “fin de semaine” for week-end, “couriel” for email (that’s really elegant, in my opinion) and putting “Arrêt” on their stop signs, but a lot of other words – especially those to do with cars – are from English. The attempt to go with “l’égo-portrait” for “le selfie” was a step too far for the young, though. As one young Francophone guy said to me, “I love French – but there are limits!”

  • General de Gaul & his wife were having a meal with the one time British Prime Minister Harold McMillan, when the General turned to McMillan & asked him “What do you plan to do for your retirement?” McMillan replied “I shall write my memoirs! & you Mon General, what do you plan for your retirement?” “No doubt the same thing I will write my memoirs!” De Gaul replied. In order to be polite McMillan asked Madame de Gaul “What do you want when you have retired from public life?” to which she replied “A penis!” Well poor Harold McMillan almost fell off his chair with shock, until General de Gaul explained “I think she meant to say “Happiness!” – one of the problems of the French not being able to pronounce the “H”

  • The history of languages is fascinating. English especially – and we have so many French words because of the French/Norman conquest in 1066. The royal court spoke French until the mid 14th century, the church spoke Latin, and this made English the third language in England. Many of our kings then were buried in France- eg Henry II with his son Richard I, and wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.
    Peasants, workers- the English, picked up many words from their superiors who had to be supplied with food. So we have mutton (mouton) beef (beouf) and many more.
    It’s useful for us learning French. And we also need to remember that it was our French kings who felt they needed to fight the 100 years war to recover their land in France, leading to the beginnings of English patriotism.
    English has evolved and taken in many foreign words, but a good percentage from French, and English is richer and more interesting for that. And how things have changed since 1066 for English. Vive la langue Anglais!

  • Salut Géraldine
    Great lesson and really interesting. Hundreds of years ago, the English aristocracy spoke French because they thought that English was a language of the peasants. Therefore we have stolen many words from the French language for example the word ‘person’ from ‘personne’ and ‘candle’ from the French word ‘chandelle’. There is also a viking influence. In Cumbria, where I live, we have place names like Bassenthwaite and Thistlethwaite, tongue-twisters. Words ending in ‘thwaite’ denote that the Vikings visited. So there is also a Northern European influence in the English language. So we can say that the English language has a real cosmopolitan flavour to it.

    • Well, they spoke French because they came over from France – specifically Normandy – in 1066 – and defeated Harold and the English. In general, the conquerors’ language was regarded as more elevated … so we get beef (boeuf) to eat, but the animal is a cow (a Germanic word.) After all, the (old-) English-speaking peasants were looking after the animals, but only the nobles could afford to eat them! The “snobbery” associated with French is why you can ask to use the toilet in polite company, but not say that you are going for a sh**. All those unsayable words with f**** and sh** and the like are Germanic words.

  • At Boulogne in a clothes shop in the womens section I saw “le top” & at a parking meter the sign said” n’oublier pas de prendre votre ticket.

  • Et Barry, si tu demande à un Français le mot pour quelqu’un qui joue au tennis, tu écouteras “un tennisman”. Une fois, un ami français a été tellement surpris d’apprendre qu’il n’est pas un mot anglais. 🙂

  • Love your video’s, always looking forward to the next one.
    I have a question regarding the phrase ” J’ai volé un avion ” which means as you say ” I stole a plane”. Then how do you say ” I flew a plane” in French if it is not “J’ai volé un avion” ?

  • Hello Barry, thanks for your comment and yes, I think
    that the French Academy and their activities could
    provide material for a whole subject in itself. The UK’s
    Independent newspaper’s France correspondence John
    Lichfield used to write brilliantly interesting copy about
    France and French life, and on more than one occasion
    he had things to say about the French Academy which
    were highly entertaining !
    All of which reminds me of the London Evening Standard’s
    Paris correspondent of the 1980s, a bloke called Sam White,
    who’d been in Paris since 1944 and who described his own
    spoken French as “execrable”. When he was absent from his
    column on one occasion due to a necessary visit to a Paris
    hospital it was stated in his paper that he’d checked himself
    in with supplies of several cartons of Gauloises cigarettes, and
    several bottles of gin; apparently he thought that this was
    what was required for a stay in hospital !! They don’t make
    them like that any more …
    But then there was the former British Prime Minister
    Edward Heath who I once heard make a prepared
    speech in French. It was bad enough listening to him
    in English, but in French it really was absolutely awful ..
    God only knows what the French made of it ?
    I’ve always thought that the key to it is to try to get the
    accent and pronunciation right, and I’ve invariably found
    that French people really appreciate it if you can.
    And to finish my burst of scribbling .. I remember staying
    with a French family once upon a time and listening
    to their teenage kids amusing themselves by going on
    about “les anglais et leurs cornflakes” 🙂 They made
    me laugh ..
    Yes, we could go on and on about all this, as the French
    and the English have been doing for years .. and years.
    It’s all good stuff, and we’d all be lost without it. The French
    Academy should carry on doing what they do (?) and the
    English speakers of the world should carry on making a
    mangle of their French pronuciation .. that way we’ll all
    keep laughing.
    Cheers Barry for your observation .. you set me off –
    But also, thank you so much Géraldine .. your Tuesday
    posts are a fabulous treat, and I just know that we all
    look forward them. More power to your elbow, as they
    say in Ireland ~ 🙂

  • Hi John. Have you noticed that while the Academy Francaise is busy removing the pollution of foreign words in French, the English language has always been enriched by it’s “borrowings”. Not that they are “borrowings” as we have no intention of ever giving them back.

    • French slang (l’argot) nowadays has a lot of words from North Africa. Some – like “kiffer”, meaning “to like, be pleased with” – have entered the mainstream. Others, like “miskine” (which originally meant “poor fellow” but I think is often used as a mark of contempt like the English “loser”) are pretty common with the youth. The 40 Immortals have their work cut out for them!

  • That was very interesting. Thank you… the old Scots language (sharing a common Saxon/Angles root with English) many French words were adopted during the many centuries of the Auld Alliance with France and around the time or Mary, Queen of Scots et Rene de France e.g. an ashet (a large type dish for serving food) une assiette!

  • Fascinating stuff, all of this .. the exchange
    of language from culture to culture over
    the centuries.
    When Leo Tolstoy wrote his epic masterpiece
    War and Peace he wrote much of the dialogue
    in French since that was the language used by
    the Russian Tsarist aristocracy. Irina’s comment
    above about Russian borrowings from French
    brings this to mind.
    And, of course, the English language has derived so
    much French influence from the arrival of the Norman
    aristocracy in England a thousand years ago.
    History is such an important subject as it can teach us
    so much from the past .. n’est ce pas !
    And now l’Académie Française does its best to keep the
    French language pure, and frankly I don’t blame them.
    As you’ve pointed out, English has given you le parking,
    le weekend and, the worst example I’ve yet come across –
    le washing-up !!
    Vive la différence maybe, but I still think that faire la
    vaisselle has much more charm to it 🙂
    Une belle leçon Géraldine ~ merci

  • Hi Barry. Your explanation of the connections between words beginning gw, g & w is fascinating – I love to discover the links between languages and the origins of words.

  • Russian language enjoys about 2000 borrowings of the French origin, while we have “donated” only one that I know – “bistro” (= quickly).

  • Hi Razinah,
    The French really don’t have a “w” in their alphabet. They tend to use “oi” to make the sound and the original words, in old French, would have been spelt “gw”. This has led to a number of words that take either the “g” or the “w”. As you say, mostly the “g” words are French, but we have both “warranty” and “guarantee”, “warden” and “guardian”, “warder” and “guard” and also “wile” and “guile”. Probably nowhere near a complete list.

  • Tu a mentionné le mot “guerre” provient du mot allemand “werra”. J’ai remarqué il y a certains mots en français qui commencent avec “gu” (guerre, guimpe, guêpe, Guillaume), qui en anglais commencent avec un “w” (war, wimple, wasp, William). Peut-être ces mots sont tous allemand en origine?

  • C’est intéressant que le mot anglais « love » vient de la langue Français. Dans le jeu de tennis les Français appelaient un zéro score « l’ œuf », l’œuf étant rond comme un zéro. En cricket, nous anglais parlons d’un « duck » (duck’s egg) pour la même raison. Les anglais ont changé la prononciation à « love » qui existe encore dans le jeu de tennis.

  • Environs un tiers des mots en anglais sont d’origine française. Un autre tiers est d’origine latine. Mais la majorité de ces mots latins sont dans le vocabulaire scientifique et donc rare.
    C’est grâce à Guillaume le Conquérant que le français a commencé à entrer (s’immiscer ? ☺) dans la langue anglaise.

  • Il est courant qu’on apercoive des gens qui portent T-shirts ou sweatshirts sur lesquels c’est écrit “Not Bothered” ou “Let’s Party” ou “You Lookin’ at Me?”.

    J’ai demande d’un gars portant une telle annonce qui je rencontrais en Utile, “Dis donc, rien ne te tracasse?”. Il ne repondait pas, evidement c’etait vrai 🙂

  • Le mot (ou les mots) blanc-mange sont connus de tout le monde en Angleterre, surtout les plus petits enfants anglais. En anglais ca veux dire un dessert au lait bien tremblotant, souvent un ton rosé.

    Le mot se prononce en anglais comme il se prononcerait en francais, c’est bizarre. Car chez les Anglais, massacrer la prononciation des mots francais c’est normale.

    • Super, je ne connaissais pas “blanc-mange”, Peter.
      En effet, la prononciation des mots français par les anglais nous fait souvent rire. (Ca doit être pareil pour vous je suppose !)

  • A Zurich on parlons le suisse-allémanique. Il y a plein mots qui sont d’origine de français. On dit trottoir (les Allemands peuvent dire “Bürgersteig”), merci (danke) et glacé (Eis) avec une accent aigu qui est prononcé. On a aussi un peu de la granitique française. On dit “Es hat keinen Kaffee” (Es gibt keinen Kaffee”) comme les français (Il y a pas de café – les Allemands dit, Il y “donne” pas de café…).

  • Bonjour Géraldine!
    Tes videos me plaisent beaucoup, ils sont tres utiles pour moi.
    La langue hongroise est assez speciale, la pluspart des mots d’origine étrangier sont des mots allemagne, mais nous avons des mots francais aussi, comme chaise longue, recammier, fauteuil, ridicule (mais ca veut dire en hongrois le sac d’une femme), cache-pot, eige, garage, couche (mais ca veut dire “shut up!”, baguette, brioche, demijon (tres important pour les gens hongrois).
    D’apres ce que j’ai lu il y a deux mots d’origine hongrais en francais: le hussard et le coche.
    J’attends le video prochaine de vous.
    (je suis désoléée de n’est pas avoir des lettres francais sur mon ordinateur).

  • Bonjour Géraldine.
    Il y a des mots danois en masse, qui sont originaires de français.
    Annonce, ambulance, balkon, beton, butik, paraply, parfume, perron, persienne, restaurant, revolutionær, revanche, service etc etc.
    Mais avis,- cela veut dire journal ! 🙂

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