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Foreign words and phrases commonly used – CSEET

Foreign words and phrases commonly used – CSEET

Foreign Words and Phrases

English has borrowed generously from other languages, more so from Latin, Greek, French and German. Many of the borrowed words have been anglicised and today are an integral part of English vocabulary in their original or modified form, e.g., restaurant, rapport, viva voce. There are many other expressions which are liberally used in English and yet continue to retain their foreign flavour. They are still outsiders and, in print, are italicised.

Some examples given below are of a technical nature pertaining to law, philosophy, politics and ‘officialdom’. The language of origin is indicated after the word or phrase within brackets. Here ‘L’ stands for ‘Latin’; ‘F’ for ‘French’ and ‘G’ for ‘Greek’.


ab initio (L) : from the beginning

ab origin (L) : from the origin

addenda(L) : list of additions (addenda to a book)

ad libitum (L) : speak or perform in public without advance preparation. (Extempore)

ad valorem (L) : according to value

ad hoc (L) : a body elected or appointed for a particular work (ad hoc committee)

ad infinitum (L) : to infinity, endlessly, forever

alma mater (L) : a school or a college which one has attended

a la carte (F) : according to the card/list (A la carte dishes are available here)

a la mode (F) : according to the fashion

alter ego (L) : the other self; alternative personality; intimate friend (He is my alter ego – we go everywhere together)

amende honorable (F) : a public or open apology, reparation

amour proper (F) : self-love; self-esteem

ancienregime (F) : the former order of things, a political or social system that has been displaced by a more modern one.

a posteriori (L) : empirical, from effect to cause

a priori (L) : from cause to effect (presumptive) Every science cannot be taught a priori.

apropos (L) : with reference to (apropos our talk)

au courant (L) : fully acquainted with matters, well-informed, up-to- date

au fait (F) : expert, having detailed knowledge

au revoir (F) : until we meet again (to say au revoir at parting)

avant-propos (F) : preliminary matter, preface

avant-garde (F) : new, unusual or experimental




beau ideal (F) : the ideal of perfection

beau monde (F) : the world of fashion

beaux sprits (F) : men of wit

bete noire (F) : a special aversion (India has always been bete noire for Pakistan)

bona fide (L) : genuine sincere (He is a bona fide citizen of India).

bizarre (F) : strange, unknown

bon voyage (F) : have a good journey





casus belli (L) : that which causes or justifies war

causecelebre (F) : a famous case in law, controversial well-publicised issue

charged’affaires (F) : a deputy to the Ambassador/a diplomatic representative to a minor country

chef d’ oeuvre (F) : masterpiece (Mona Lisa is Vinci’s chef d’ oeuvre.)

circa (L) : approximately (‘circa 1930′)

confere (F) : colleague

contretemps (F) : a minor dispute or disagreement

corrigenda (L) : a thing to be corrected (in a book)

coupd’etat (F) : violent change in government (There was a coup d’etatin Cambodia and the Kingwas overthrown.)

coup de grace (F) : a finishing stroke (The coup de grace of the Russian Revolution brought about the total annihiliation of the Czar family.)

cul-de-sac(F) : a blind alley (The failure of the policy of non- alignment in 1962 saw our foreign policy reach a cul- de-sac.)




debacle (F) : an utter failure or disaster (debacle of opposition in the election)

de facto (L) : actual or in fact (de facto recognition to a state)

de jure (L) : from the law, by right

de novo (L) : anew, again (trial of a case)

de’ nouement (L) : the end of a plot or narrative (in a play)

deprofundis (L) : a heartfelt appeal or feeling

dernierressort (F) : last resort

detente (F) : easing of strained relations especially between countries

dramatis personae (L) : characters of a novel, play or narrative



elite (L) : select group or class (The elite of town)

enfant terrible (F) : child who asks awkward questions; person or thing causing embarrassment by unruliness

entrepreneur (F) : a person who sets up business taking greater financial risk

en masse (F) : all together (They took leave enmasse.)

en rapport (F) : in harmony

entourage (F) : group of people accompanying a dignitary (P.M.’s entourage)

errata (L) : list of errors

esprit de corps (F) : the animating spirit of a particular group like a regiment

et cetera (L) : and the rest

eureka (G) : I (have) found it !

ex-officio (L) : by virtue of his office/status/position

expose (F) : a report in the media that reveals something discreditable

ex post facto (L) : with retrospective action or force



fait accompli (F) : a thing already done/accomplished fact

faux pas (F) : a social blunder




gauche (F) : unsophisticated/socially awkward



hoi polloi (G) : the common people




impasse (F) : a deadlock (Talks reached an impasse.)

in extenso (L) : in full

in memoriam (L) : in memory of

in toto (L) : entirely/as a whole (The Committee’s recommendations were accepted in toto.)

ipso facto (L) : by that very fact or act

laissez-faire (F) : a policy of non-interference




mala fide (L) : in bad faith (opposite of bona fide)

malapropos (F) : ill-timed/inappropriately

modus operandi (L) : a way of doing something (of a gang, group, etc.)

mutatis mutandis (L) : with the necessary changes (Rules will come into force mutatis mutandis.)




noblesse oblige (F) : privilege entails responsibility

nota bene (L) : note well (Abbreviation-N.B.)




par excellence (F) : better than the others of the same kind

paripassu (L) : side by side, equally or equivalently per se (L) : by itself

piece de resistance (F) : the important feature of a creative work or meal, etc.

poste restante (F) : a department in the post office that keeps letters for a period till called for

post mortem (L) : examination/analysis made after death/or an event has occured

prima facie (L) : at first view of consideration (It is prima facie a good case.)

probonopublico (L) : for the good of the public

pro forma (L) : denoting a standard document or form

pro rata (L) : according to rate or proportion

protege (F) : one under the protection/guidance of another older or experienced person (SouthVietnam was U.S.’s protege.)



quid pro quo (L) : a favour or advantage given in return for something




raison d’ etre (F) : the most important reason for a thing’s existence

resume (F) : a summary or curriculum vitae




sanctum sanctorum (L) : holy of holies (temple, church, etc.)

seriatim (L) : point by point

sine die (L) : without a day being appointed (The meeting was adjourned sine die.)

status quo (L) : the existing condition (status quo on the border should be maintained)

ste t(L) : let it stand, do not deter

subjudice (L) : under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion (The case is sub judice.)

subrosa (L) : confidentially/done in secret

sui generis (L) : in a class by itself

summumbonum (L) : the chief good




terra incognita (L) : an unknown territory

tour de force (F) : a notable feat of strength or skill



ultra vires (L) : beyond one’s authority




verbatim (L) : word for word

vice versa (L) : conversely

videlicet (L) : namely, more formal term for viz.

vis-a-vis (F) : in relation to, as compared with, in a position facing one another

viva voce (L) : an oral examination

voxpopuli, vox Dei (L) : the voice of the people is the voice of God



Zeigeist (G) : the defining spirit of a particular period or age

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