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Foreign Words and Phrases

The English meanings given below are not necessarily literal translations. Foreign words and phrases should be set in Italics (or underlined if written in long-hand) if their meanings are likely to be unknown to the reader. Whether the expression is familiar or unfamiliar, however, is a matter of judgment.

ad absurdum Latin to the point of absurdity. He tediously repeated his argument ad absurdum.
ad hominem Latin attacking an opponent's character rather than answering his argument. As usual, any attempt on my part to discuss the matter rationally was met with an ad hominem attack on my perceived personality flaws.
ad infinitum Latin to infinity. The lecture seemed to drone on ad infinitum.
ad nauseam Latin to a sickening degree. The politician uttered one platitude after another ad nauseam.
aficionado Spanish an ardent devotee. I was surprised at what a baseball aficionado she had become.
annus mirabilis Latin wonderful year. Last year was the annus mirabilis for my company.
au courant French up-to-date. The shoes, the hair, the clothes - every last detail of her dress, in fact was utterly au courant.
beau geste French. a fine or noble gesture, often futile. My fellow writers supported me by writing letters of protest to the publisher, but their beau geste could not prevent the inevitable.
beau monde French high society. Such elegant decor would impress even the beau monde.
bete noire French something or someone particularly disliked. Talk of the good old college days way back when had become his bete noire, and he began to avoid his school friends.
bona fide Latin in good faith; genuine. For all her reticence and modesty, it was clear that she was a bona fide expert in her field.
bon mot French a witty remark or comment. One bon mot after another flew out of his mouth, charming the audience.
bon vivant French a person who lives luxuriously and enjoys good food and drink. It's true he's quite the bon vivant, but when he gets down to business he conducts himself like a Spartan.
carpe diem Latin seize the day. So what if you have an 8:00 a.m. meeting tomorrow and a full day of appointments? Carpe diem!
carte blanche French unrestricted power to act on one's own. I may have carte blanche around the office, but at home I'm a slave to my family's demands.
caveat emptor Latin let the buyer beware. Before you leap at that real estate deal, caveat emptor!
comme ci comme ca French so-so. The plans for the party strike me as comme ci comme ca.
comme il faut French as it should be; fitting. His end was truly comme il faut.
coup de grace French finishing blow. After an already wildly successful day, the coup de grace came when she won best all-around athlete.
cri de coeur French heartfelt appeal. About to leave the podium, he made a final cri de coeur to his people to end the bloodshed.
de gustibus non est disputandum Latin there is no arguing in matters of taste. Shaking his head at the tinsel-town ostentation of the casino, he mumbled, `de gustibus non est disputandum.'
de rigueur French strictly required, as by etiquette, usage, or fashion. Loudly proclaiming one's support for radical causes had become de rigueur among her crowd.
deus ex machina Latin a contrived device to resolve a situation. Stretching plausibility, the movie concluded with a deus ex machina ending in which everyone was rescued at the last minute.
dolce vita Italian sweet life; the good life perceived as one of physical pleasure and self-indulgence. My vacation this year is going to be two uninterrupted weeks of dolce vita.
Doppelganger German a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person. I could not shake the sense that some shadowy Doppelganger echoed my every move.
ecce homo Latin behold the man. The painting depicted the common Renaissance theme, ecce homo Christ wearing the crown of thorns.
eminence grise French gray eminence; power behind the throne. All but the most unperceptive realised that the general was the eminence grise behind the puppet ruler.
enfant terrible French an incorrigible child; an outrageously outspoken or bold person. Again he played the role of enfant terrible, jolting us with his blunt assessment; yet I was secretly thrilled that the truth had come out in such a flagrant manner.
entre nous French between ourselves; confidentially. Entre nous, their marriage is on the rocks.
ex cathedra Latin with authority; used especially of those pronouncements of the pope that are considered infallible. I resigned myself to obeying; my father's opinions were ex cathedra in our household.
ex post facto Latin retroactively. I certainly hope that the change in policy will be honoured ex post facto.
fait accompli French an accomplished fact, presumably irreversible. There's no use protesting it's a fait accompli.
faux pas French a social blunder. Suddently, she realised she had unwittingly committed yet another faux pas.
Feinschmecker German gourmet. No, I don't think McDonald's will do; he's much too much of a Feinschmecker.
flagrante delicto Latin in the act. The detective realised that without hard evidence he had no case; he would have to catch the culprit flagrante delicto.
glasnost Russian open and frank discussion: initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 in the Soviet Union. Once the old chairman retired, the spirit of glasnost pervaded the department.
hoi polloi Greek the common people. Marie Antoinette recommended cake to the hoi polloi.
in loco parentis Latin in the place of a parent. Put those cigarettes away young man; while you're with me consider my word in loco parentis.
in medias res Latin in the middle of things. The story began in medias res; it was clear from the first lines that some kind of horrendous calamity had already befallen the characters.
in situ Latin situated in the original or natural position. I prefer seeing statues in situ rather than in the confines of a museum.
in vino veritas Latin in wine there is truth. By the end of drunken banquet, several of the guests had made a good deal of their private lives public, prompting the host to murmur to his wife, `in vino veritas.'
ipso facto Latin by the fact itself. An extremist, ipso facto, cannot become part of a coalition.
je ne sais quoi French I know not what; an elusive quality. She couldn't explain it, but there was something je ne sais quoi about him that she found devastatingly attractive.
Kinder, Kirche, Kuche German children, church, kitchen. She realised that her entire life had been devoted to Kinder, Kirche, Kuche.
mano a mano Spanish a direct confrontation or conflict. `Stay out of it,' he admonished his Frenchiends, `I want to handle this guy mano a mano.'
mea culpa Latin I am to blame. His mea culpa was so offhand that I hardly think he meant it.
memento mori Latin a reminder that you must die. The scull rested on the mantlepiece as a memento mori.
modus operandi Latin a method of operating. Her modus operandi is to sugar-coat the truth so thoroughly that the news almost seems welcome.
mot juste French the exact, appropriate word. `Rats!' screamed the defiant three-year-old, immensely proud of his mot juste.
ne plus ultra French the most intense degree of a quality or state. Pulling it from the box, he realised he was face to face with the ne plus ultra of computers.
nom de guerre French pseudonym. He went by his nom de guerre when frequenting trendy nightclubs.
nom de plume French pen name. Deciding it was time to sit down and write novel, the would-be writer spent the first several hours deciding upon a suitably dashing nom de plume.
nota bene Italian note well; take notice. She appended her suggestions to the manuscript, underlining the words nota bene for added emphasis.
persona non grata Latin unacceptable or unwelcome person. Once I was cut out of the will, I became persona non grata among my relatives.
pro bono Latin done or donated without charge; free. The lawyer's pro bono work gave him a sense of value that his work on behalf of the corporation could not.
quid pro quo Latin something for something; an equal exchange. She vowed that when she had the means, she would return his favours quid pro quo.
sans souci French carefree. Their mood was definitely sans souci.
savoir faire French the ability to say and do the correct thing. She presided over the gathering with impressive savoir faire.
sic transit gloria mundi Latin thus passes away the glory of the world. Watching the aging former football quarterback lumber down the street, potbellied and dissipated, his friend shook his head in disbelief and muttered, `sic transit gloria mundi.'
sine qua non Latin indispensable. Lemon is the sine qua non of this recipe.
terra incognita Latin unknown territory. When the conversation suddenly switched from contemporary fiction to medieval Albanian playwrights, he felt himself entering terra incognita.
tout le monde French everybody; everyone of importance. Don't miss the event; it's bound to be attended by tout le monde.
veni, vidi, vici Latin I came, I saw, I conquered. After the takeover the business mogul gloated, `veni, vidi, vici.'
verboten German forbidden, as by law; prohibited. That topic I am afraid, is verboten in this household.
vox populi Latin the voice of the people. My sentiments echo those of the vox populi.
Wanderjahr German a year or period of travel, especially following one's schooling. The trio took off on their Wanderjahr soon after they graduated, planning to circle the globe by bicycle.
Weltanschauung German a comprehensive conception or image of the universe and of humanity's relation to it. His Weltanschauung gradually metamorphised from a grim and pessimistic one to a sunny, but no less complex, view.
Zeitgeist German the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time. She blamed it on the Zeitgeist, which encouraged hedonistic excess.

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This page (forwords.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013