50 Foreign Terms

50 Foreign Terms That Aren’t Foreign


English is a very welcoming language, adopting terms indiscriminately from other tongues. Many publishers observe a distinction between naturalized words and those still considered foreign, honoring the assimilation of the former by refraining from using any visual emphasis and italicizing those in the latter category.

The careful writer will honor this distinction, but how is one to know to which class a particular word or phrase belongs? Adopted words will appear in the dictionary, while words or phrases that have not received a green card remain relegated to a print dictionary’s appendix, if any. Or, check out this virtual cheat sheet, which lists words and phrases (with brief definitions) that do not merit italicization.

1. à la carte: priced separately
2. à la mode: fashionable; topped with ice cream
3. a priori: presumptive, presupposed
4. ad hoc: formed for a special purpose
5. ad infinitum: without end or limit
6. ad nauseam: to an excessive or sickening degree
7. apropos: opportune or relevant
8. attaché: a diplomatic technical expert; a briefcase
9. avant-garde: innovative
10. belles lettres: artistic literature
11. bon voyage: have a good trip
12. bona fide: genuine, sincere
13. carte blanche: full permission
14. caveat emptor: let the buyer beware
15. chargé d’affaires: a deputy ambassador or minister
16. coup d’état: a violent government overthrow
17. cul-de-sac: a dead end
18. de facto: in practice
19. doppelgänger: an alter ego, double, or ghost; someone with the same name as someone else
20. en masse: as a whole, in one body
21. en route: along or on the way
22. ex officio: because of or by virtue of an office
23. fait accompli: something already done and irreversible
24. faux pas: an error
25. fete: a celebration; celebrate
26. habeas corpus: an order to bring a jailed person before a judge to determine whether the person should be jailed; the right of a person against illegal imprisonment
27. hors d’oeuvre: appetizers
28. ipso facto: by the fact itself
29. machismo: an exaggerated masculinity or show of strength
30. maître d’: a headwaiter or steward
31. ménage: a household; housekeeping
32. modus operandi: a way of doing things
33. nom de plume: a pen name
34. non sequitur: a statement that does not logically follow what was previously said
35. papier-mâché: paper mixed with glue and water to harden for molding for artistic projects
36. per capita: per person
37. per diem: per day, paid by the day; a daily allowance or fee
38. per se: by itself
39. persona non grata: an unacceptable person
40. précis: a concise summary
41. prima donna: a conceited person
42. prima facie: apparent, self-evident, or at first view
43. pro bono: donated
44. realpolitik: practical rather than theoretical politics
45. soiree: an evening party or reception
46. status quo: the current state
47. tête-à-tête: a private conversation; a piece of furniture designed to facilitate one
48. tour de force: an impressive display or feat
49. vice versa: with the order changed
50. vis-à-vis: in relation to