13 French terms for writers

Boost your writing game with a few ‘bon mots’ and let the glory of France’s language inspire you.

Not many of us may realize that around 45 percent of English vocabulary is of French origin.

We use words such as art, establish, genre, liberty and perfect every day without realizing they derive from French.

Below are some French expressions related to writing and literature. How many of these can you work into your content? (Definitions from Wordnik and Oxford Dictionaries.)

1. Avant-garde— radically innovative or cutting-edge movements in art, music, or literature; a person or group of people who invent or promote new techniques, especially in the arts.

JRR Tolkien was an avant-garde figure in the genre of fantasy.

2. Belles-lettres— literary works that are valued for their aesthetic qualities, rather than their informative or educational content; light, stylish writings; literature regarded as a form of fine art; literally “fine letters.”

I’ve savored the belles-lettres of Patrick O’Brian five times.

3. Bons mots— well-chosen words; a witty remark.

Shakespeare was a master of bons mots.

4. Critique— an in-depth, critical examination of a work, especially a work of art or literature.

How can you trust a critique that’s riddled with spelling and grammatical errors?

5. Dénouement— the conclusion or resolution of a plot; the unraveling of a mystery; the catastrophe; literally “untying.”

As gripping as the climax of “The Usual Suspects” might be, the dénouement that follows is even more astonishing.

6. Esprit de l’escalier— a witty remark thought of too late; literally “wit of the stairs.”

In the heat of the argument, words failed me. The esprit d’escalier came to me the next morning.

7. Feuilleton— a small section of a newspaper that features gossip, reviews, light fiction, fashion and other non-political news and entertaining content; a novel published in installments; literally “little leaf of paper.”

“Around the World in Eighty Days” by Jules Verne was first published as a feuilleton.

8. Le mot juste— the right word at the right time; literally “the just word.”

Justine ended the 15-minute debate with a mot juste.

9. Littérateur— a person interested in and knowledgeable about literature; a literary person; a writer of literary works.

Jason fancied himself a littérateur, but the rest of us thought he was a hack.

10. Nom de guerre— a pseudonym; a fictitious name; to disguise the identity of a military leader; literally “war name.”

His real name was Sabri al-Banna, but he became widely known by his nom de guerre, Abu Nidal.

11. Précis— a concise summary; an abstract of the essential facts of a work.

Our professor assigned us the daunting task of writing a 300-word précis of “Les Misérables.”

12. Raconteur— a storyteller, especially one who tells stories with spirit and wit.

My niece, a gifted raconteur, provides much-needed comic relief at family gatherings.

13. Raisonneur— a character in a novel or play who stands for morality and reason; one who argues; literally “one who reasons.”

I often feel like a raisonneur when it comes to setting and maintaining standards for our external communications.

PR Daily fans, what terms would you add to this list?

Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing, editing and corporate life at impertinentremarks.com.

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