12 Things Called ‘French’ In English and Whether They're Actually French

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iStock

Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate this French holiday, let’s take a look at some of the things we call "French" in English that may not be French at all.

1. FRENCH TOAST

They don’t eat French toast in France. There, it’s called pain perdu ("lost bread," because it’s what you do with stale bread) or pain doré (golden bread). In the 17th century French toast was a term used for any kind of bread soaked and then griddled: In a 1660 citation, it refers to bread soaked in wine with sugar and orange and then cooked.

2. FRENCH VANILLA

Vanilla is a bean from a tropical plant not grown in France, so what’s so French about French vanilla? French vanilla was originally not a term for a type of vanilla, but a type of vanilla ice cream, one made using a French technique with an eggy, custard base. It’s since detached from ice cream and become a flavor with a certain rich profile.

3. FRENCH DRESSING

Originally the phrase French dressing referred to the type of dressing people might actually eat in France: oil, vinegar, herbs, maybe a little mustard. But somehow during the early 20th century it came to be the name for a pinkish-red, ketchup-added version that’s totally American.

4. FRENCH PRESS


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In France, the French press coffeemaker, a pot for steeping coffee grounds with a plunger for filtering them out, is called a cafetière à piston or just a bodum after the most common brand. It may have been invented in France, but the first patent for one was taken out by an Italian in 1929. The style of coffee became popular in France in the 1950s, and was later referred to by American journalists as "French-press style coffee."

5. FRENCH KISS

The term French kiss, for kissing with tongue, came into English during World War I when soldiers brought the phrase—and perhaps the kissing style—back from the war with them. French had long been used as a common adjective for various naughty, sexually explicit things like French letters (condoms), French postcards (naked pictures), and French pox (VD). In French, to kiss with the tongue is rouler un patin, “roll a skate” (having to do with gliding?), but in Québec they do say frencher.

6. FRENCH HORN

In French, a French horn is a cor d’harmonie or just cor, a name given to the looping, tubed hunting horns that were made in France in the 17th century. French became to the way to distinguish it from other horn types, like the German or Viennese horn, which had different types of tubes and valves.

7. FRENCH FRIES

The phrase French fries evolved in North America at the end of the 19th century out of the longer “French fried potatoes.” The dish is said to be more properly Belgian than French, but it was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson after he brought a recipe back from France. In French they are simply pommes frites, fried potatoes.

8. FRENCH MANICURE


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The French manicure, a pinkish, nude nail with a bright, whitened tip, was apparently invented in Hollywood in the 1970s. It began to be called a French manicure after the look made it to fashion runways. The style isn’t as popular in France, but women there do tend toward a groomed look with a natural color. In France, the term has been borrowed in from English: It's called la French manucure.

9. FRENCH BRAID

The term French braid (or French plait in British English) has been around since the 1870s, but the braid style itself, where hair is gathered gradually from the sides of the head over the course of braiding, has been around for thousands of years, according to archeological artifacts. It may have become associated with France simply for being seen as high fashion and French being equated with stylishness. In French, they also call this specific style of braid a French braid, or tresse française.

10. FRENCH TWIST

The vertically rolled and tucked French twist hairdo also came to be in the 19th century, and was also associated with French high fashion. In French it is called a chignon banane for its long, vertical shape.

11. FRENCH MAID

Housemaids in 19th-century France did wear black and white uniforms—though they were not quite as skimpy as the French maid costumes you see today. The French maid became a trope comic character in theater and opera, and the costume, along with other titillating characteristics, came to define what we now think of as the classic French maid.

12. FRENCH BREAD


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These days French bread has come to stand for any white bread with a vaguely baguette-like shape, whether or not it has a traditional, crusty exterior. It has been used as a term in English as far back as the 15th century to distinguish it from other, coarser types of bread.

11 Thoughtful Gifts For Word Lovers

iStock.com/Jelena Danilovic
iStock.com/Jelena Danilovic

It’s easy to spot the logophiles in your life: They’re the people who are addicted to word games, have full libraries at home, or who are always quick to provide you with the word that’s on the tip of your tongue. This holiday season, indulge your loved one’s passion for words with a gift they’ll appreciate.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. Penguin Minis

Box set of miniature books.
Amazon

If you can’t choose just one book to give to the avid reader in your life, this collection makes an excellent stocking stuffer. The miniature box set packs four titles from John Green into an ultra-portable package. Each book is the size of a cell phone, and with onion skin pages, they’re slimmer than your thumb. The books are meant to be held horizontally, and when it’s time to flip the page, just swipe up.

Find It at Amazon for $27.

2. Moleskine’s Book Journal

Cover of book journal.
Moleskine

The new year is a great opportunity to start a book journal. This one from Moleskine is specifically designed for documenting someone’s reading history, with sections for recording general information about the title as well as jotting down impressions and memorable quotes. Like other Moleskine products, this notebook comes with useful features like ribbon bookmarks and an expandable inner pocket.

Find It at Moleskine for $30 and also at these other retailers:

3. Shakespearean Insults Chart

Chart of Shakespearean insults.
Uncommon Goods

Give this chart to someone you know and instantly add color to their insult arsenal. The poster not only list dozens of scathing jabs from the works of Shakespeare, but it also breaks them down into categories like “body qualities” and “personal attributes” and subcategories like “knaves” and “dunghills.” The chart measures 24 by 18 inches and comes with a magnetic birch frame for an extra $30.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $25.

4. KenzaPad

Leather pads for taking notes.
Scott MacMillan, Kickstarter

Smartphones are convenient for taking notes on the go, but it’s hard to beat the tactile sensation of jotting down a thought with a pen and paper. The KenzaPad combines the best elements from both mediums into one handy tool. The pad looks and acts like a wallet on the outside, with pockets for holding keys, cards, and pens. Flip open the magnetic seal and it transforms into a notepad you can hold with one hand and write in with the other. And no thicker than a smartphone, the KenzaPad neatly slips into a purse or pocket.

Find It at Kickstarter or $20 and up.

5. Book Darts

Container of book tabs.
Amazon

Book darts give book lovers ultimate control over their reading experience. Instead of putting down a book mid-paragraph, or rushing to the next page before adding a bookmark, these tools let readers save their place down to the line. With 50 metal tabs per package, they’re also a great, reusable alternative to highlighters or sticky notes.

Find It at Amazon for $8.

6.Personalized Tumble Tower

Tumble tower with engraved blocks.
Uncommon Goods

Give this classic party game a personal touch by customizing the blocks. Before ordering the super-sized set, you can choose to have the names of you and a loved one engraved on one half of the blocks and a special date engraved on the other half. The result makes for a beautiful keepsake, but this set is also meant to be played with: It even comes with a durable carrying sack for lugging it to and from parties.

Find It: Uncommon Goods for $165.

7. Mini Crossword Set

New York Times crossword puzzle set.
The New York Times Store

This mini crossword set comes with everything word lovers need to complete The New York Times’s famous puzzles on the go. Each book comes with 150 condensed crossword puzzles, and the pencil set and carrying case make it easy to fill them out on the train, in the office, or anywhere else the mood strikes.

Find It at:

8. Leatherbound Reference Books

Leather bound reference books.
Food52

Even in today’s internet age, every household should have a few hard-copy reference books on the shelf. These books from Food52 double as elegant statement pieces. Each volume in the set—a dictionary, an atlas, and a thesaurus—is bound in the same tan vachetta leather used to make Italian handbags. The pages of the dictionary and thesaurus are edged in gold, and the atlas in oxblood red.

Find It at Food52 for $172 and up.

9. Due Date Card Necklace

Necklace with library due date card charm.
Jeannine’s Jewels, Etsy

A stamped due date card immediately brings to mind long days curled up with a good library book. At the Etsy shop Jeannine’s Jewels, the familiar item has been turned into a handmade charm pendant. The card is protected inside a filigree bezel and strung on a sterling silver-plated ball chain.

Find It at Etsy for $16.

10. Retro Series Scrabble

Box of retro Scrabble game.
Amazon

Scrabble has been updated several times since its debut, but the original edition remains a classic. This Retro Series-edition of Scrabble is the same version of the game that appeared on shelves in 1949, complete with vintage wood tiles and racks. Whether or not the players stick to words that were dictionary-official 70 years ago is up to them.

Find It at Amazon for $14.

11. Banned Books Socks

Socks with titles of banned books printed on them.
Uncommon Goods

Even the most widely beloved books in literature have received plenty of hate. This pair of banned books socks highlights classic books that have all been pulled from shelves at some point in their histories. One sock features famous banned book titles like The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and To Kill a Mockingbird, while the other is covered in blacked-out text.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $10.

Thoughtful Human's Line of Plantable Greeting Cards Is Here for Life's Most Delicate Scenarios

Thoughtful Human
Thoughtful Human

Not sure how to make amends with that family member you had a fight with a couple years back? Perhaps you want to offer support to a friend going through a painful time—like with depression, cancer, or various kinds of grief—but don't know how. If you're having trouble finding the right words to say, Thoughtful Human wants to help. This unorthodox card company is challenging people to communicate in ways that show "radical compassion and empathy."

Thoughtful Human is essentially the Hallmark of strained relationships and awkward ice-breakers. The messages get straight to the point and say the words you might have trouble voicing aloud. "I was being really selfish and immature. I'm sorry," reads one. "Still mad, but life is short and tradition is tradition. Happy birthday," reads another.

But what truly makes these cards a literal alternative to extending an olive branch is that they're also plantable? All of the cards are made of seed paper, and they generally transform into wildflowers within 10-14 days of being planted. View it as a symbol of the restorative power of communication.

A variety of cards
Thoughtful Human

In a video posted to the company's website, Thoughtful Human's founder, Ali O'Grady, explains that the cards are designed for "dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances." It's also a deeply personal project: She decided to start the company after losing her father to cancer.

There are cards dedicated to addiction and rehab, depression, grief, injury, long-distance relationships, and other delicate scenarios. Of course, you'll also find plenty of cards for happier times, including thank-you notes and congratulatory messages.

And if you haven't sent out your Christmas cards yet, consider this anti-holiday holiday card: "Shout out to that stranger's baby who locked in a lifetime of undeserved gifts, pie, and vacation time for everyone."

These cards and more can be found on Thoughtful Human's website, on Target.com, and at select Whole Foods stores in California's Bay Area.

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