Today is the birthday of Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the French general and aristocrat who played a significant role in both the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
Lafayette argued on behalf of the American colonists, persuading King Louis XVI of France to send French troops to aid the colonists’ struggle for independence from Britain. George Washington gave him command of an army at Virginia, and he fought valiantly on the American side at both Valley Forge and Yorktown.
Lafayette returned to France in 1782. Clearly influenced by his experience in the American Revolution, he became active in French politics drafting the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” which was adopted by the National Assembly in 1789. During the French Revolution he protected the royal family from attack at Versailles, but he lost popularity in his homeland when his soldiers fired on a crowd of demonstrators who were demanding that King Louis XVI abdicate his throne. During the tumultuous revolution, he fled to Austria but returned later when Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power.
President George W. Bush, on July 24, 2002, made Lafayette an honorary citizen of the United States, making him only the sixth person ever to receive such an honor (1).
Just as the United States benefited from borrowing Lafayette from the French, so too has the English language benefited from its liberal borrowing from the French language. With the invasion of Britain in 1066, the French language took a prominent role, especially in the language of government, law, and the military. Since that time and under more peaceful circumstances, English has continued to borrow hundreds of words from French.
Below are some examples of common English words that have their origins in French:
ambulance, bastion, cache, detour, entrepreneur, faux pas, gaffe, hors d’oeuvre, lieutenant, macabre, niece, omelette, picnic, queue, raffle, souvenir, trophy, umpire, velocity, wardrobe, zigzag (2).
Today’s Challenge: Be a Borrower and a Lender
Using a good dictionary, search for other examples of English words and/or phrases with French origins.
Quote of the Day: I stand and listen to people speaking French in the stores and in the street. It’s such a pert, crisp language, elegant as ruffling taffeta. –Belva Plain
1 – The Teacher’s Calendar of Famous Birthdays (The Editors of McGraw Hill). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
2 – http://www.krysstal.com/borrow_french.html