French letters and Sentences

The French Flag - Three colours in smoke trails

Aux Trois Crayons – The fly past by “Air Force Patrouille de France” pictured from near the Musée du Louvre, Paris. ©deccanchronicle

Well it’s another Bastille Day. So it seems “apropos” (with regard to the present topic) to pay tribute to some of the sentences French has let us occupy and in some cases even own.

As it is a Saturday night it feels appropriate to include some of the more risqué ( that which is verging on impropriety or indecency) words or sentences that could be possibly used on a long night out, as well as a few, more interesting and practical ones on Bastille weekend.

Of all the French words that have worked their way into English only “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir” transcends description and translation.

Nothing is lost in translation however as “would you like to sleep with me tonight” says it all. And in a way says nothing at all.

The English Sloane Ranger characters of “Fiona or Henry”,  would be more likely to use it to better effect than any Frenchman. In fact any self-respecting French Man would never say it.

The origins of the phrase in English, however, can be traced back to a poem entitled a “Little More Ladies” by E. E. Cummings from 1922:

ladies skilfully dead precisely dance, where has danced la guerre j’m’appelle Manon,
cinq rue Henri Mounier voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
te ferai Mimi te ferai Minette, dead exactly dance
It then appeared in a famous song. And became almost infamous.

Other useful French Influenced English words and phrases:

Deep And Meaningful

Adieu “until God” Used like “farewell”: when you don’t expect to see the person again until God (when you die and go to Heaven)

Isn’t this so wonderfully romantic and final. In one word “the end”. Use with dramatic intent with people you meet in passing (enpasse) throughout the night.


à la minute “to the minute” This term is used in restaurant kitchens for dishes which are cooked to order, rather than made ahead of time

à la carte “on the menu*” French restaurants usually offer a fixed price menu offering multiple choices across several courses. If you want anything else you order from the carte.

Apéritif  Is a “cocktail” . Derived from Latin: “to open”

Inexplicably Fashionable:

à la mode refers to something deemed to be “in fashion, or in style” Somewhat inexplicably in American English, this means “with ice cream” – apparently someone decided that having ice cream on pie was the fashionable way to eat it.

The English adoption is a little more consistent with the French original. And it is also one of the earliest French phrases to have been adopted into English. It is referred to in John Selden’s Laws of England, 1649. informs that the term was anglicized as a noun – alamode, which was a form of glossy black silk. This is listed in a 1676 edition of The London Gazette: “Several Pieces of wrought Silk, as Taffaties, Sarcenets, Alamodes, and Lutes.”

Use to describe the high fashion visions and stylistic displays you will encounter as you sashay (Alteration of chassé. A ballet movement that uses small quick steps and leads with the same foot ) as you wander across the bridges and through the La Marais.

Political and Criminal:

agent provocateur directly translated as a “provocative agent”.  A person who attempts to provoke individuals or groups into committing unlawful acts. It was a tactic usually used on those under suspicion but not exclusively.

When used on Bastille night it is most likely to refer to people being mischievous not malevolent. Water is often involved.

Oh and the meaning of the French Letters of the title……  Well of course being French – and an English interpretation of French culture – it has to have something to do with love.  A “French Letter” is of course an antiquated name in English for a condom.

I hope the piece held your attention to the “end”.