In 1066, William of Normandy rowed across The Channel, became William the Conqueror, and took England. In a spirit of fairness, his descendants gave scores of words to the ‘English’ language.
Here is a list of French words and phrases that are commonly used, but have not officially been adopted.
Je ne sais quoi – a special, indefinable quality
Her fancy clothing had a certain je ne sais quoi.
Habitué – a person frequently visiting a place
As an habitué of the bistro, he headed to his usual table.
Billet-doux – a love letter
Stewart’s first novel was a billet-doux to his home town.
Bric-a-brac – a collection of ornaments
Among my aunt’s bric-a-brac was a glass angel that she treasured.
Flāneur – one who idly strolls around and observes
Paul spent the day as a flāneur on the streets of Montreal.
De rigueur – required by fashion or convention
A jean jacket is simply de rigueur this season.
Esprit de l’escalier – a perfect retort, formulated too late
A comedian went home after being heckled, and finally delivered his esprit de l’escalier to the cat.
Sang-froid – self-possession under stress (literally – cold blood)
The butler retained his sang-froid during his employer’s crisis.
Ā la carte – ordered separately from a menu
Not hungry enough for a set meal, Terri ordered baked potato and creamed spinach ā la carte.
Renaissance – cultural revival or rebirth
Toronto’s restaurant scene was undergoing a renaissance.
Contre-jour – with a camera facing the light
Matt positioned his grand-nephew contre-jour to produce a halo effect.
Armour-propre – self-worth
Getting dissed by a nerd wounded Rory’s armour-propre.
Éminence grise – a person with no official title, but great influence
Years of insightful posts had made Archon an ėminence grise in the blogosphere.
Laissez faire – a non-interference approach
Small businesses benefit from laissez faire economics.
Roman ā clef – thinly-veiled novelistic accounts of real people or events
George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a roman ā clef about the Russian Revolution.
I prefer to speak my French in plain English. Aside from a couple of these which have finally been naturalized into the language, I don’t use any of them.