“French is the language that turns dirt into romance” – Stephen King
In my opinion, French is one of the most beautiful languages, if not the most beautiful. I have been attracted to the language since I can remember, and I’ve also been fascinated by – among other things related to France – french lifestyle, art and culture. Considering the fact that I am studying philology and with having relatives living in France it’s hard to resist being a francophile. I’ve put together a list of 10 most beautiful French words, with each word having its very own interesting story behind it.
Cliché is a noun derived from the verb clicher, meaning “to stereotype”, in fact, it is a past participle form used as a noun. Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought or a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person“, cliché is one of the most popular French words that have entered the vocabulary of many other languages. The situation that immediately comes to my mind every time I say cliche is when the film’s main protagonist stops the bomb from exploding just when the LED timer reaches 00:00. Or what about holding up the Tower of Pisa? I admit, I did it, too.
Couture is French for sewing. Non-French speakers are better acquainted with this word as part of a well-known syntagma “haute couture” – high fashion. Fashion has been an important industry and cultural export of France since the 17th century, and modern haute couture originated in Paris in the 1860s. Not surprisingly, a fashion magazine was French invention. Founded by Jean Donneau de Visé in 1672, le Mercure Galant was the first gazette to report on the fashion world. France has the term haute couture protected by law and defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris, which determines which fashion houses have the right to call themselves a couture house. Among those who earned the right are Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Armani, Versace, Lacroix and others.
Noir is French equivalent to black. Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) was the first modern cabaret; well known in artistic circles, the regular visitors included Picasso, Verlaine, Debussy and many more. It was located in Montmartre, the bohemian district of Paris.
Past participle of décolleter – expose the neck. Décolleté as noun represents a low neckline on a woman’s dress or top. The wearing of low-cut dresses emphasizing cleavage was a sign of wealth or social position.
Arabesque literally mean “in Arabic fashion/style”. It can refer to one of the most popular ballet postures in which one leg is extended backwards, creating the angle of 45°, 90° and even greater than 90°, or to a form of ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, vegetal decoration or animals used in Islamic and European art.
The term silhouette has been in existence since the 18th century. Named after a French finance minister Étienne de Silhouette. In 1759 he was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people. Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became eponymous with anything made cheaply. Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.
Parapluie is a French word for umbrella. The general use of of the umbrella in France was adopted about the middle of the seventeenth century, probably from China. Pictorial representation of parapluie were frequent, such as The Umbrellas by Renoir or Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustavo Caillebotte.
Excellence is a French word derived from Latin verb excellere – to surpass. Excellence is a talent or quality which is exceptionally good and so surpasses ordinary standards. Commonly used in “par excellence” to indicate that somenone or something is the best of its kind. Excellence is closely related to excellency, which it shares the same etymology with.
Escargot means snail. It’s a dish of cooked snails usually served as an appetizer. The most often eaten species is Helix pomatia. Escargot is high in protein and low in fat content and it’s considered an elite food. Snails are purged, killed, removed from their shells, cooked and then placed back into the shells together with the butter and sauce for serving. Bon appétit or not?
Another dish. Vichyssoise means “from Vichy”. It’s a thick soup made of pureed leeks, onions, potatoes,cream and chicken stock. It is traditionally served cold, but can also be eaten hot.
Déclassé, papilon, bijoux, vogue, échappé, bourgeoisie, enchanter, vinaigrette, changement, susurrer, constitutionnellement are also beautiful and melodic words French vocabulary abounds in, but I decided to reduce my shortlist to these 10.
In conclusion, I picked out appropriate quote to sum up the story:
“It has always been a marvel to me – that French language; it has always been a puzzle to me. How beautiful that language is! How expressive it seems to be! How full of grace it is!” – Mark Twain, a Biography