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Language à la mode


The English language loves to borrow words from other languages, and the language that English has borrowed most words from is French. In fact, when it comes to talking about fashion, it would be pretty hard to say anything at all without using loanwords from French. Here are just a few of them.

The word ‘chic’ means elegant and stylish, but it can also be combined into compound adjectives to describe more precise looks. For instance, ‘casual chic’, refers to a look that’s relaxed but also stylish, or ‘grunge chic’ that, although it seems like a contradiction in terms, involves scruffy clothes put together into an elegant ensemble.

Describing a material as ‘fake’ suggests that something is substandard; that the buyer is being cheated. Although the French word ‘faux‘ means the same thing, faux sounds more positive. So, you’re more likely to see an advertisement in English for jackets made with ‘faux fur’ than with ‘fake fur’.

While the English word ‘underwear’ is a general term to describe anything from a lacy thong to a comfy pair of cotton underpants, the French word lingerie, definitely suggests something sexy. Interestingly, the word lingerie comes from the French word linge, meaning linen — not the sexiest of materials…

A few English words have passed into French, too. The English word ‘look’ is the most common of these. But there is a notable difference in attitude to loanwords between the two cultures. Chic, prêt-à-porter, haute couture, lingerie and many more French loanwords have been accepted as part of the English language. However, l’Academie Francaise, the institution that regulates the French language, is sceptical of loanwords and does not consider ‘look’ to be part of the French language.

Find out more about the impact of French on the English and American fashion world in this month’s Speak up!