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Voilà Your Audience With These 4 Non-English Words

I remember coming across a restaurant along Chun Tin Road named “Vis-à-Vis” when mobile surfing was non-existent. It piqued my curiosity and I had to ask around what it means – face-to-face.

“What an apt name for a romantic restaurant," I thought.

From time to time, we come across these non-English or foreign words. These words are often printed in italics and now, finding their meanings is a breeze.

If it makes you wonder how such words had made it to the English dictionary, it is because they are used often, and dictionaries are updated to serve a living language.

Curious? Watch the YouTube video “How Do Words Get Added to the Dictionary” by BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks. (the link is shared at the end of the article)

In the meantime, here are four commonly used non-English words that had found their way into the English lexicon.

(1) Al fresco or Alfresco

Origin – Italian

[Pronounce it like: Al-fres-co]

What it means

Outdoors or out in the open.

How to use it

  • (In a restaurant) "We would like seats for four. Al fresco, please."
  • A bright and sunny day will make a perfect alfresco playdate for children.



(2) Déjà vu

Origin - French

[Pronounce it like: Dae-jar-voo]

What it means

Having a familiar feeling that you experienced something similar before when you are actually experiencing it now.

How to use it

  • As our tour guide led us into the Sung Sot Cave in Halong Bay, I was taken aback by the déjà vu feeling as the scenery of the cave unfolded exactly like what I had in my mind.

Deja vu

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(3) Carpe Diem

Origin - Latin

[Pronounce it like: Kar-peh-dee-am]

What it means

Live for the moment! Seize the day and enjoy the present.

How to use it

  • Taking my friends’ advice to live a life attuned to the belief of carpe diem, I bungee jumped and experienced what it meant to live for the moment. I would not be doing it again.

Carpe Diem


(4) Tête-à-tête

Origin - French

[Pronounce it like: tat-a-tat]

What it means

Engage in a private conversation between two people.

How to use it

  • It made us feel uncomfortable when Roland ended spending most of his time in a Facebook tête-à-tête with God-knows-who during dinner.



Here is the YouTube video mentioned earlier about “How Do Words Get Added to the Dictionary”, by BrainStuff – HowStuffWorks.

How Do Words Get Added To The Dictionary?

This article was first published for GRAM'S Learning Centre's blog in July 2017

© 2017 Yvonne Teo


Yvonne Teo (author) from Singapore on July 14, 2017:

:) Thanks Ms Dora

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 14, 2017:

Thanks for the explanations on these phrases. They can come in very handy.

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