Six common English words you had absolutely no idea came from French

Yeah, yeah, we all know that words like restaurant, déja vu, touché (etc etc) came from French. We didn’t even bother changing them!

In fact, some people say as much as 30 percent of English words come from French, so it’s no surprise that we all know a few.

But here are six words that come from French, though you absolutely definitely didn’t know it.

Note: If you did know that the following six words all came from French, you’re officially a language expert and you should be a guest on the show. Get in touch.


The word tennis came from the French word Tenez, or “Here you go”. As the story goes, English speakers trying to pronounce tenez (which should be something like tennay) just pronounced it tennezz – and there you have it.

Bonus trivia: Some claim that the tennis score of “love” (meaning no score) comes from the French word for egg, l’oeuf, as the zero looks like an egg. This has never been confirmed, so it remains a bonus point for now.


2. Mayday

This call of distress also comes from French, more precisely, from the word M’aidez which is pronounced roughly the same. Venez m’aider literally means “Come and help me”.

3. Nice

I’m not talking about the lovely city of Nice in southern France (pictured below), I’m talking about the word nice with a small n. Who’d have thought it comes from French too!

Back in the 12th century, the Old French used the same word – nice – to mean “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish.” So think twice, perhaps, when calling someone a nice person…


4. Bacon

I’d always thought the French had taken this one from English, but no! It certainly doesn’t sound very French, but that’s where we stole it from. While the French spell it the same way as we do, they actually stole it from Old Dutch who spelled it baken, who stole it from Old High German who spelled it bahho. Everyone wants a piece of the bacon, it seems.

5. Toast

Toast. One of the most English things going around. And the English took it from the French word toster, or more specifically, from Old French in the 14th century. Toster was a verb meaning “to brown with heat”. If you’re looking for a slice of toast in France, it’s better to ask for pain grillé, although people do say toast these days too.


6. Denim

A favourite fact of language lovers… the word denim comes from French too. Yes, everyone’s favourite jeans material comes from Nimes in southern France. Or as they’d say in French: de Nimes. Shorten that and you get Denim. Voila!

PS: I went to Nimes on the recent honeymoon trip and can confidently say it’s well worth a visit!

All these words either came from French or Old French, or at least via French, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

More reading: Check out The Earful Tower’s language section here. Follow on Facebook here.

Season five of the podcast is out soon. Subscribe here

One thought on “Six common English words you had absolutely no idea came from French

  1. Funny about the old French meaning of “nice”; the old English meaning is quite the opposite: “characterized by, showing, or requiring great accuracy, precision, skill, tact, care, or delicacy:
    nice workmanship; a nice shot; a nice handling of a crisis.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: