General Knowledge

60 Important Foreign Words / Phrases you Should Know

Word or Phrase -Derivation Meaning

ad hoc Latin for the specific purpose
ad hominem Latin “to the man”—appealing to the personal rather than the logical
ad infinitum Latin to infinity
ad nauseum Latin to the point of nausea
à la carte French each item (on a menu) available separately
à la mode French fashionable; with ice cream
alma mater Latin one’s college or university
angst German anxiety, apprehension
anno domini Latin year of our Lord (A.D.)
a priori Latin deductive, determined through logic alone
avant garde French cutting edge, advanced
bête noire French “black beast”—something to be avoided
bona fide Latin “in good faith”—genuine, authentic
carpe diem Latin “seize the day”
carte blanche French free rein
coup d’état French governmental takeover by force
cul-de-sac French dead end
cum laude Latin with honor
de facto Latin in reality
déjàvu French “already seen”—lived through previously
de jure Latin in law
ésprit de corps French morale
ex post facto Latin after the fact
fait accompli French accomplished, irreversible fact
faux pas French gaffe, misstep
gestalt German unity, perceived whole
idée fixe French obsession
in absentia Latin in the absence of
in loco parentis Latin in the place of a parent
in medias res Latin in the middle of a plot
ipso facto Latin by that very fact
joie de vivre French “joy of living”
lingua franca Latin common language
magnum opus Latin masterwork
mano a mano Spanish “hand to hand”—face to face confrontation
mirabile dictu Latin “wonderful to say”
modus operandi Latin way of working
ne plus ultra Latin “no more beyond”—pinnacle, acme
noli-me-tangere Latin “touch me not”—do not interfere
nom de plume French penname
non sequitur Latin “not following”—off the topic
nota bene Latin pay attention
per se Latin in and of itself
persona non grata Latin unwelcome
prima facie Latin “at first view”—self-evident
pro bono Latin “for the good”—for free
pro forma Latin for form’s sake, done as a formality
pro rata Latin in proportion
raison d’être French reason for being, justification
rara avis Latin “rare bird”—rarity
realpolitik German expansionist nationalism
savoir-faire French know-how, savvy, tact
schadenfreude German pleasure derived from others’ misfortunes
sine qua non Latin essential condition
sui generis Latin “of its own kind”—unique
tabula rasa Latin “blank slate”—unformed opinion
vis-à-vis French “face to face”—in connection to
weltschmerz German romantic pessimism
zeitgeist German spirit of the times

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