footnotes: french words you misuse all the time

Who knew buffet actually meant the sideboard where food is placed, and not the massive array of food itself? Not us, but whoever constructed the extensive list of “List of French Words and Phrases Used by English Speakers” on Wikipedia certainly did. The pseudo-Frenchness of the word “buffet” brought to our attention all the French words and phrases we use without having any clue what they actually mean.


Picture a woman dressed in an avant-garde (there’s another one) negligé (another). Hot, right? Yeah well erase that image from your brain ‘cause that’s not what risqué means. Nice try, pervs. Risqué in French parlance (count it?) means literally risky, like continuing to invest all your money in payphone-constructing companies. How fucking boring is that? If you really wanna bang it out with a hot French babe, try using osé. She’ll know what it means.

Au natural

Were you picturing that woman from the above description au naturel? Well if you were picturing her naked, then once again, you are mistaken, monsieur, because she’d just not be wearing any makeup. Sucks for you, chump.

A la mode

We use this phrase to mean “with ice cream on top,” most commonly applied, in my experience, to apple pie. In French, this is very, very much not what this means. Although ice cream is always fashionable, à la mode just means stylish. Just goes to show how America knows how to take fashion and make it fit obese people.


Picture yourself relaxing in a hot tub at your chalet in St-Moritz surrounded by attractive friends after an exhausting day on the slopes, waiting for your duc à l’orange and chocolat chaud to be prepared? Well, idiot savant, après-ski really just refers to your trashy moonboots. Get a real job.


This is potentially the most shocking of all, so get ready mesdames et messieurs. We in America envision the small, fugly bouquet of flowers that a female prom-goer wears around her wrist before she gets sloppily drunk and barfs in front of the parent chaperones (just me?). In French, in simply means a woman’s torso! Ooh la fucking la!!!!!!


This is the same.

5 Responses

  1. Yvonne Bradley says:

    I cannot believe that you are a college student at Yale and are totally unaware of the dual useage of the word “buffet”. Shame on you – you should not even be at Yale if you are so uneducated as that.

  2. Scott says:

    Yvonne, well done. That took a ton of courage, to make such an astute observation. Your thoughtfulness and tone were also meritorious. Hope McDonalds is treating you well.

  3. Carolane says:

    i like your article, i’m a french-canadian. I’ve lived in new york during all my elementary school and half of my high school and it is true that ”americans or english” people are using these expressions. Don’t take personnal ”bad comments” i thought you did a nice job because it is probably not your first language and you knew what these expressions meant.

  4. Anne says:

    “Sideboard” is probably the term used on the east coast. In Ohio, the piece of furniture holding the pies on Thanksgiving was “the buffet.” The drawers also held the silverware and the table linens.

  5. D says:

    As a French, living in France, I need to correct some stuff. The massive array of food is also called buffet in French. And a corsage in not a woman’s torso. Thanks for trying though !

Leave a Reply