Friday, July 14, 2006

July 14: Bastille Day

Today is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the Paris prison fortress of King Louis XVI. In 1789, 13 years after the American colonists had rebelled against the British monarchy, the citizens of France rose up against the despotism of King Louis, releasing prisoners from the Bastille and raiding its arms and ammunition.

Louis and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were arrested at their residence in Versaille, and the entire royal family was eventually executed.

Among the climate of chaos and anarchy, the National Convention established the French Republic. Although true democracy did not result from the French Revolution, the absolute monarchy in France was permanently abolished (1).

Something that may never be abolished is the relationship between the French and English languages.

This relationship between England and France began in 1066 with the Norman Invasion. With a Norman king of England, French became the language of the government. Though the Anglo-Saxon tongue became a second-class language in England, it still remained alive and well as the language of the common people. In fact, there were fewer French words absorbed into English during the Norman reign (approximately 1,000 words) than after an English king regained the throne. Between 1250 and 1500, more than 9,000 French words were absorbed into English.

English is a Germanic language. Its most frequently used words are Anglo-Saxon -- grammar words, such as pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions. However, a higher precentage of English vocabulary words come from other languages, principally Latin or the Romance languages -- the languages that descended from Latin, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

Next to Latin, more of these vocabulary words were absorbed from French than any other language. The following words are a small sample of common English words that have French origins:

dentist (2)

Today's Challenge: Au Gratin, Au Pair, and Au Naturel
The list of French expressions below are frequently used in English. Use a good dictionary to translate them into English.


Au Gratin: au, with the + gratin, scraping from the pan

Au Pair: au, at the + pair, equal

Au Naturel: au, in the + naturel, natural state

bon mot
carte blanche
coup d'etat
cul de sac
deja vu
en route
faux pas
nom de plume
piece de resistance
savoir faire
tour de force

Quote of the Day: The thing that's wrong with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur. --George W. Bush

1 - Yenne, Bill. 100 Events that Shaped World History. San Francisco: Bluewood Books, 1993.

2 - Reader's Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

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