Oct 7, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: That Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

As I keep learning French, I'm noticing more and more French loanwords in English. The funny thing is that a lot of them don't mean the same thing as they do in French. Because I learned English first, this can get a bit confusing.

Here are a few examples:

Demander in French means "to ask." Originally it's from Latin demandare, de=completely + mandare= to order. The origins sound more like what "demand" means in English, but in French it usually doesn't have that connotation of pompous insisting.

Surnom, from sur=over and nom=name, means a nickname in French. Surprise, surprise, in English it means "last name."

Rendez-vous, from rendre=present + vous=you (present yourself), is just an innocent meeting or appointment in French; in English it has a clandestine nudge-nudge, wink-wink flavour to it.

Hôtel in French originally meant "private mansion, palace, large house," not hotel, as in a place where tourists stay. You can still see this in some place names, like the Hôtel des Invalides.  

 What about English loanwords in French, then? I just don't get most of them. It seems like the French picked the ugliest and most prosaic words in the English language to borrow. A lot of the time the original French term is much nicer. Le living, for living room, for example. In French we have la salle de sejour. Which one would you pick?

Well, au revoir, or see you soon.

At least that one works the same in both languages.



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