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A Certain "je Ne Sais Quoi": The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  194 ratings  ·  37 reviews
"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
James D. Nicoll

Organized alphabetically for easy reference, A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" is an accessible lexicon of foreign words and phrases used in English, containing everything from aficionado (Spanish) to z
Hardcover, 175 pages
Published March 4th 2010 by Reader's Digest Association (first published September 1st 2009)
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Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book could definitely have used some pronunciation helps along with the foreign words. Many of these phrases I've read in books but I've never heard pronounced. Now that I know what they mean, I still can't use them in conversation because I still don't know how to pronounce them!

It was a quick read. Each foreign phrase or word was accompanied by a paragraph detailing the first use in English, the foreign meaning, the English meaning, and how it is used in English today. That wasn't bad. It
Danielle Freeman
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I love words. I believe Amazon's review best sums it up.

"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
-James D. Nicoll

Organized alphabetically for easy reference, A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" is an accessible lexicon of foreign words and phrases used in English, containing everything from aficionado (Spanish) to zeitgeist (German). Inside you'll find translations, definitions, or
Apr 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: words
Lots of fun. Pronunciation hints would make it a perfect book, but it's very good without (besides, I should really learn how to pronounce Latin words). In addition to learning some fun tidbits, I've also learned some new words.
Mark Hartzer
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Docked 1 star for the failure to include pronunciations. Actually more of a 3.5 star book. But lawyers love language and I'm no different. For example, I learned that the word "Geist" means ghost in German, so both "poltergeist" and "zeitgeist" have a common root word. Interesting!
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an impulse grab off of the library shelf when I was looking for another book on language. It's a cute little collection of the meanings and etymologies of various common foreign words and phrases in English. Most selections and their meetings will be very familiar to readers, but sometimes their origin is an interesting tale. A la carte was first coined by Escoffier (who counted Ho Chi Minh amongst his students.) The ukulele was originally known by another name, but the Hawaiians took t ...more
Rich Brown
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
A fun stocking-stuffer from my sister (a/k/a my only 'friend'). Subject is fun, book is a nice addition to my language-library.... but holy cow, the typos. Typos in a book about words are sort-of not good.

The premiere example (L'example premieré?)

Furvor: Excitement/controversy (Italian)
{a paragraph explaining the etymology.}
Usage: .... summer festival caused such a fervor.


It's "fervor." It's spelled correctly in the usage sentence,
Jared Anderson
Jul 28, 2014 rated it liked it
I started this book a while ago, so I decided to finish it. It's a book I'd suggest to be read over a long period of time, looking at one or two entries a day. My brain kind of lost interest. I vacillated between two and three stars. But it had funny comics, which bumped it up to three. It was interesting to see where foreign phrases within the English language came from and their original meanings. But I do think I need a break from the informational book types. My brain is telling me to go enj ...more
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The only complaint this word nerd has about this book is a deplorable lack of pronunciation guides. It is otherwise a delightful romp through the often convoluted history of our colorful language.
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who want to improve their vocabulary
A brief but informative book on foreign words used frequently in English.
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
Overall, I found this book to be a bit boring. There were a ridiculous number of French and Latin phrases mentioned in this book, all of which have retained their original meaning and most of which I have never in my life heard. I could see this being an interesting book to have on hand, should one encounter one of these odd words or phrases, but reading it cover to cover was not terribly enjoyable. There were a few gems of information, but other than that - it wasn’t very insightful or entertai ...more
Steven Burgauer
Jan 10, 2017 rated it liked it
The author seemed pretty full of herself. Admittedly, an enormous number of English words descend from French, especially here in America where French trappers and clergy penetrated deep into the continent.
ZaraS  *book reviewer
This book is a fun and easy read and would appeal to anyone who has an interest/curiosity about the origins of the words that we use in our everyday language. There are some surprises contained within its pages and then there are ones that make perfect sense. It also manages to highlight just how much we take for granted in our language usage. I really enjoyed reading this book and am likely to go back to it many times in my life. You can easily pick this book up and read wherever you want in it ...more
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-book-chal
It's a stupid book.
But it does have a couple of interesting ethymologies...
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fun and simple for word lovers
Amanda Witt
Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read about words that are well known and others not so much, from different languages and their inclusion in English
This was really disappointing and mediocre to be honest. It's good for a quick flip-through but not really worth reading cover to cover, even quickly. It was like a elaborate listicle, and about as factually reliable too. The little cartoons and usage sentences were supposed to be charming but were just annoying and in some places even mildly offensive.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a great new reference work that you might just find yourself curling up with as if it were a novel. It explores 'the origin of foreign words used in English', and some of them are pretty amusing.

For example, our term paparazzi referred to the Italian word for mosquito and was related to a Fellini film (how appropriate is that!). And when you say someone has a lot of panache, you probably aren't referring to the feather on their hat, but that is where the word derives from: a plume of fea
Michelle (Undeniably Book Nerdy)
My interest for this book was piqued one afternoon while I was browsing the books they had for sale in Costco. I didn't buy it then (though I thought about it) but when I found out it was being offered for review, I jumped at the chance. I've always been interested in language origin so this book was an enjoyable read and I learned a lot. A few of my favorites are:
robot - drudgery (Czech), honcho - squad leader (Japanese)
cushy - easy/pleasant (Urdu), khaki - dusty (Hindi), confetti - sweets (Ita
Linda B
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
There can’t be a more American word than “dungarees”, right? Actually, according to author Chloe Rhodes, the word dungarees comes from a Hindi word Dungri which is a cotton cloth used for sails and tents in India. This is the type of word information contained in A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi.

Listed alphabetically, the book gives not only the origin of the words we use, but also how they became included in our language. Many of the words we hear regularly, kowtow, alma mater, kudos, and glitch, hav
May 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Words, phrases, certain sayings we use all the you ever wonder where they came from? "A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi" by Chloe Rhodes lets us in on the origins of things we say every day. From A cappella ( in the manner of the choir) to Zeitgeist (spirit of the time), Chic (elegant) to Sarong (covering), any lover of words will love this book. Examples as well as origins are given alphabetically. This would be a great book for any reader, graduate (high school or college), anyone who is cra ...more
Holly (2 Kids and Tired)
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
A sheer delight. Like many readers, I love words. I love discovering the origins of words and phrases. Here, I discovered that the origin of paparazzi means mosquito. How appropriate is that? Or how we use the term Al Fresco to mean "in the fresh air" but in Italy it's slang for "in prison".

I was familiar with many of these words and phrases, but not how they came into such wide use. This is one of those fun books that you can just pick up on a whim and entertain yourself. It's a fast, easy rea
Mar 05, 2010 rated it liked it
From my blog...
A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi": The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English by Chloe Rhodes is an absolutely delightfully charming book filled with foreign words used within the English language, the origins of the words, their original definitions as well as how the word came about, the current meaning and an example of usage of the word. My family as well as I had a lot of fun discovering the meanings of many words as well as the origins of some of our favourites such as "Reductio
Mar 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: etymologists round the world, or those simply curious about how some of our sayings came to be...
Recommended to Gmr by: FSB Associates
Whether you are a lover of the written word in general, or you simply love to learn about where particular words and saying came from, this is a must read for you. Presented in a reference book style that allows easy look up of your favorites, it can be read straight through or picked up at random to provide a meaning, or saying at a moments notice. You may not recognize them all (I sure didn't) but those that are new will simply be fodder to add to your ever growing knowledge base. Carpe diem! ...more
Freda Mans-Labianca
Aug 20, 2010 rated it liked it
I loved everything about this book. I love language books, especially books that study the origin of words, so this book for me was a treat!
A lot of the words inside I was familiar with, and even some of their origins, but there were a few new words to me too. I know that I am going to try to use these words in my extended vocabulary now.
This is a really great book for English lovers, language lovers, or people with general curiosity. Though I don't think a book for everyone, I do think everyone
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: etymology
Rhodes put together an amusing book from information she mostly gathered from various free internet sources. Some definitions, such as the one for vampire, omit useful information, probably for the sake of brevity. Pronunciation instructions would have made the book more useful for folks hoping to spice up the next dinner party conversation. Nonetheless, it is a fun little tome.
Sep 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: cleanskin
Talking book version. Not bad but another trivia sort of book. Not sure how the readers voice would go with my tender ears if I had to listen for much longer.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: language, own
I love the idea of this book! The stuff that fascinates me..
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
for reading when there is nothing else to do. one paragraph at a time. no continuity. just a "dictionary" in semi-narrative.
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fun! King's English focus, but most of it still applicable elsewhere in the English-speaking countries.
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