A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi”: The Origin of Foreign Words Used in English by Chloe Rhodes, is another fabulous little book from the Reader’s Digest collection. The quality of the book is fantastic and very aesthetically pleasing on the book shelf just like the others, and it’s filled chock-full of interesting information, but in a very reader friendly format. I don’t have one negative word to say about it. (Unlike the others though, I’d be careful about letting the kids read this one. There’s very little in it that is inappropriate but they do cover the origin of some “risqué” words such as “schmuck” and “ménage à trois”.)
Here’s a little article from the author that I’ve been authorized to re-print here.
Carpe Diem and Become a Word Connoisseur!
English is filled with a smorgasbord of foreign words and phrases that have entered our language from many sources — some from as far back as the Celts. A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi,” which tells the story of how many of these expressions came to be commonly used in English, will both amaze and amuse language lovers everywhere. You’ll be fascinated to learn, for instance, that . . .
- ketchup began life as a spicy pickled fish sauce called koechiap in seventeenth-century China.
- honcho came from the Japanese world hancho, which means squad chief. The world was brought to the United States something during the 1940s by soldiers who had served in Japan.
- dungarees comes from the Hindi word dungri, the thick cotton cloth used for sails and tents in India.
Organized alphabetically for easy reference, A Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi” tells the little-known origin of some of these thousands of foreign words and phrases — from aficionado to zeitgeist. Inside, you’ll find translations, definitions, origins, and lively descriptions of each item’s evolution into our everyday discourse. With this whimsical little book, you’ll be ready to throw out a foreign word or phrase at your next party, lending your conversation, well, a certain je ne sais quoi.
Chloe Rhodes is a freelance journalist who has worked for The Telegraph, Guardian and The Times as well as numerous other respected publications. She lives in North London with her husband.