Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Certain Je ne sais Quoi

The English language is full of oddities and exceptions to the rule. That I suppose is why it is said to be one of the more difficult languages for non native speakers to learn. It is why it presents many challenges to native speakers also.

The English language also includes many foreign phrases. Some retaining their original meaning and others having morphed into something completely different. Did you know that Paparazzi, the word now used to describe pesky celebrity photographers, mean mosquitoes in Italian? The current use of the word came about from its usage in a movie.

A la mode means fashionable in French. In the seventeenth century the English used this phrase to describe a light silk used to make scarves. Here it has come to mean with ice cream. Strange, the history of words.

Phrases such as the Spanish mi casa es su casa, my house is your house,  are used in their original meaning.  Derriere is French for bottom. Guru means teacher in Sanskrit. Verbatim means word for word in Latin.

No, I am not a master of words who knew all these bits of trivia off the top of my head, though I do find them rather interesting. I found these bits of word history in a book I was recently sent to review, A Cerntain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" - The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English. 

Foreign words and phrases that are used in English are arranged alphabetically in this book. Each word or phrase includes the language or origin, the original meaning, and a little history behind how the word and meaning have come to the English language.

I enjoyed browsing through this book. I learned a lot and was surprised at some of the history behind the words. I think anyone who enjoys words would enjoy this book.

Hasta la vista.


  1. Educational post. The English language is quite diverse.

  2. I didn't know that about papparazzi, though it certainly fits. English is indeed difficult to teach. We're already running into problems with things like"to, two, too." Looks like an interesting book - thanks!

  3. Every language is difficult to learn but if you have confidence with you than nothing is impossible in this world.