Around here most of us speak English. But do we really speak it exclusively, or are we actually using more foreign words and phrases than we realize?

To find out, I challenged my German friend Claus to a contest to see which one of us could come up with the most foreign words and phrases that we might use during the day, often without even realizing that we’re doing it.

“You go first,” I told him.

“OK, let’s see, I’ll start with French words. When I walked into the brasserie (brew pub) with my fiancee, a sudden felling of deja vu (I’d been there before) came over me. I felt like I had carte blanche (freedom to act) in the place until I spotted my bete noire (person I dislike) sitting in the corner. I extended my hand in beau geste (a generous act), but was rebuffed by my adversary.”

“Realizing that savoir faire (acting appropriately) was de rigueur (required by etiquette),” he continued, “I delivered a verbal coup de grace (decisive stroke) to the cur by means of a mot juste (just the right word), and departed while maintaining my veneer of sangfroid (calmness).”

“Well played, my friend,” I conceded. “Now it’s my turn. I’ll take Italian words and phrases. In Italy I fancied myself one of the cognoscenti (people in the know), and was living la dolce vita (the sweet life). I would dine alfresco (outdoors) on pasta that was cooked al dente (firm when bitten), stopping occasionally to yell ‘brava’ (a cry of approval) to the young woman who was singing a cappella (unaccompanied).”

“But I had to leave because we were constantly being stalked by the paparazzi. Claus, did you know that ‘paparazzi’ comes from the name of sidewalk photographer Signore Paparazzo in Federico Fellini’s 1960 movie ‘La Dolce Vita?'”

“I knew that,” he grumbled, apparently not happy with my verbal parry. “This time I’ll go with some Latin words and phrases that we use every day.”

He opened with, “Did you know that the day after President Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine, searches for the definition of “quid pro quo” (something done in exchange for something else) increased by 5,500 percent on Merriam-Webster.com?”

He continued, “Frankly, I’m tired of all of your American politicians, with their sub rosa (done in secret) modus operandi (method of operation) and ad nauseam (excessively tiresome) ad hoc (made for a particular purpose) committees.”

“Wow, Claus, that sounds pretty negative, but I guess that’s no surprise in light of some of the German words we use over here.”

“What do yo mean?” he shot back.

“Well there’s blitzkrieg (lightening war), earworm (that terrible song that’s stuck in your head), shadenfreude (taking pleasure in someone’s misfortune) and katzenjammer (a hangover). Those are all pretty negative, my friend.

“Oh yeah,” he retorted, “well you seem to have forgotten about words like delicatessen, kindergarten, waltz and fest. And does ‘Octoberfest’ ring a bell? And I just thought of another German phrase that sounds pretty good to me right now.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Auf wiedersehen” (see you later), he hissed as he marched out the door.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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