French : the not so foreign language
It is a fact that is probably hard to acknowledge by either side. As the two major languages of the Western world, English and French naturally contributed many other words to each other. The English language, born out of dialects of three German tribes (Angles, Jutes and Saxons) who settled in Britain circa 450 AD, was as much shaped by French as it was by Latin and German. The Anglo -Saxon dialect developed into something known as Old English, influenced in varying degrees by Celtic, Latin and Scandinavian (Old Norse)
A Norman king made speaking French trendy in Britain. Bill Bryson in his book “Made in America : An informal history of the English language in the United States” called the Norman conquest of 1066 the “final cataclysm which awaited the English language”. When William the Conqueror became King of England, French took over as the language of the court, administration and culture and stayed that way for 300 years. Meanwhile, English was relegated to everyday, less prestigious uses. In all, English adopted some 20 000 French words, ¾ of which are still used today.
Some words and expressions in English borrowed from French have been so completely absorbed by English speakers that they might not realise its origins. An even stranger phenomena is the case of French words being absorbed by English, disappearing momentarily from French and then resurfacing many years later only to be alarmingly seen as an English “invader”.
For example, the word “sport”. Originally it was a French word used only in the plural form to describe tournaments by medieval knights, “des sports”. Adopted by English, it completely disappeared from the French language for several centuries only to make its way back into modern French in its adopted, singular form. Today, many native French speakers still think of it as a foreign word.
Attache, bête noire, déjà vu, de rigueur, enfant terrible, faux pas, femme fatale, gamine, haute couture, joie de vivre, laissez faire, nouveau riche, raison d’être, RSVP, tete-à-tete.