Learning the Lingo

Foreign expressions are rampant and play a vital role not only in the English language, but other global tongues as well. Understanding these figures of speech can help you become a better conversationalist and will allow you to decipher what others mean when they use the terms.

Here are a few of the most commonly used phrases:

Ad hoc – Latin (ad hok)
For this purpose or for a special purpose.

Ad infinitum — Latin (ad in-fuh-nahy-tuhm)
To infinity.

Ad nauseam — Latin (ad naw-zee-uhm)
To a sickening degree.

Aficionado — Spanish (uh-fish-yuh-nah-doh)
A zealous devotee.

Bete Noire — French (bet nwar)
Literal: black beast. Anything one avoids or fears.

Bona fide — Latin (boh-nuh fahyd)
Authentic. Without fraud.

Carpe diem — Latin (kahr-pe dee-em)
Seize the day; enjoy the moment.

Carte Blanche — French (kart blawnsh)
Literal: a blank page. Having discretionary power.

Caveat emptor — Latin (kav-ee-aht emp-tawr)
Let the buyer beware.

Cul-de-sac — French (kuhl-duh-sak)
Literal: bottom of the sack. The expression originated in England by French-speaking aristocrats. Refers to a dead-end street, but is often used metaphorically to describe a task that leads to nowhere.

Deja Vu — French (day-zha voo)
Literal: already seen. To perceive that one has already seen or done something in the past.

Dolce Vita — Italian (dawl-che vee-tah)
The sweet life or the good life, filled with pleasure and self-indulgence.

Faux pas — French (foe-pah)
Literal: false step. An offensive social occurrence, or an embarrassing action.

Gauche — French (goash)
Literal: left, as in direction. Lacking in tact or social graces.

Je ne sais quoi — French (zhuhnuh se kwa)
I know not what; an elusive feature.

Laissez-faire — French (lessay fare)
Literal: let do. A policy of noninterference.

Nom de plume — French (nom duh ploom)
Pen name

Nota bene — Latin (noh-tah be-ne)
Take notice of something important.

Per — Latin (pur)
Literal: through, by means of. In accordance, or according to.

Per se — Latin (pur sey)
An expression that means “by itself” or “intrinsically.”

Persona non grata — Latin (per-soh-nah nohn grah-tah)
An unacceptable or an unwelcome person.

Pro bono — Latin (proh boh-noh)
Free, without charge.

Quid Pro Quo — Latin (kwid pro kwo)
Literal: something for something. A favor done in exchange for another.

Raison D’etre — French (rehzon detra)
Literal: reason to be. Reason for being.

Savoir-faire — French (sav-wahr-fair)
The finesse to say and do the correct thing. Tact.

Status quo — Latin (stat us kwo)
Literal: state in which. The way things are presently.

Tete a tete — French (tate a tate)
Literal: head to head. A “pow-wow” or private dialogue between two people.

Verboten — German (ver-boht-n)
Prohibited or forbidden.

Vis-a- vis — French (veez a vee)
Literal: face to face. In relation to or as compared to.

Wunderkind — German (woon der kind)
Literal: child prodigy. A person who succeeds, especially at a young age.

Yin & yang — Chinese (yin and yang)
Literal: dark and bright. Two opposite yet complementary forces. Yin is feminine and yielding while yang is masculine and assertive.

Learning Tip:

Since learning these expressions means you’re essentially learning a new language, some people tend to avoid these terms claiming they simply are not adept with foreign words. Here is a quick tip to help you retain these translations and their meanings:

**Use one term a day in a written note or e-mail. The old saying “use it or lose it” summarizes this method. Studies show by utilizing newfound information, you can help solidify it in your mind and behavior.

And once you master these words, try to come up with some others on your own. Communication is an ongoing learning process and employing new English, as well as foreign words, can help you become a masterful speaker in your personal and professional sphere.


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