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Aug 30, 2010
This week's theme
Terms from French

This week's words
agent provocateur
enfant terrible
fait accompli
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with Anu Garg

In their advice on good writing, some style guides recommend avoiding expressions borrowed from a foreign language (for example, savoir-faire). While the advice is well-intentioned, there are situations where a term from another language sums up an idea precisely in a few syllables that would otherwise take a few sentences in English.

Besides, if you take a larger view, it's hard to say where one language ends and another begins. Consider such everyday words as coach, garage, ketchup, and pal. Do they seem like one hundred percent English language words? In fact, we borrowed them from Hungarian, French, Chinese, and Romany, respectively.

So when a word appears to be foreign, often it's just that it hasn't tumbled around in the river of our language long enough to make it look (spelling) and sound (pronunciation) like a native. Also, some words take longer than others in getting naturalized.

This week we've picked five terms from French that -- even though they have been a part of the English language for more than a century -- still look very French.

Feel free to pepper your lingo with these terms, but remember, just like pepper, a little goes a long way.

A note about pronunciation: Some of the terms have their pronunciations naturalized while others are still pronounced as in French.

agent provocateur

(ah-ZHON* proh-vok-uh-TUHR)
[* the second syllable is nasal]
plural agents provocateurs (pronunciation same)

noun: Someone employed to encourage or provoke suspects into doing something illegal so they can be arrested or discredited.

From French agent provocateur (provoking agent).

"Stanislav Beranek was critical over the creation of the role of agent provocateur, who will seek to provoke artificial situations in which someone will accept a bribe."
Cillian O'Donoghue; New Pandur Purchase Inquiry Launched; The Prague Post (Czech Republic); Jul 21, 2010.

See more usage examples of agent provocateur in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

Now is the time to understand / That all your ideas of right and wrong / Were just a child's training wheels / To be laid aside / When you finally live / With veracity / And love. -Hafez, poet (1315-1390)

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