This is a list of French words and phrases adopted from French which have evolved or been adapted in such a way into English that their original meanings are no longer readily recognised by indigenous French speakers. In some cases, the French usage has also evolved away from its original sense; others are outright malaprops.
Several such French expressions have found a home in English. The first continued in its adopted language in its original obsolete form centuries after it had changed its form in national French:
bon viveur — the second word is not used in French as such, while in English it often takes the place of a fashionable man, a sophisticate, a man used to elegant ways, a man-about-town, in fact a bon vivant. In French a viveur is a rake or debauchee; bon does not come into it.
The French bon vivant is the usage for an epicure, a person who enjoys good food. Bonne vivante is not used.
brassiere — first used by the Evening Herald in Syracuse, New York, in 1893. It gained wider acceptance in 1904 when the DeBevoise Company used it in an ad. However, the word brassière is actually Norman French for a child's undershirt! In French, a "bra" is called a soutien-gorge (literally, "breast-supporter").
Entrée in French on a restaurant menu does not have the meaning of "main course" that it does in American English (in French that is "plat"), but instead refers to the course preceding the main course, namely the first course in a three-course meal, or what in British English is also called a "starter" and in American English an "appetizer" (Australasian English however uses 'Entree' in the same sense as French). Thus a three-course meal in French consists of an "entrée" (first course), a "plat" (the main course) and "dessert".
Law French - Many words used in modern law are derived from now-archaic French words that have lost their meaning for native French speakers.
Rendez-vous — merely means "meeting" or "appointment" in French, but in English has taken on other overtones. Connotations such as secretiveness have crept into the English version, which is sometimes used as a verb. It has also come to mean a particular place where people of a certain type, such as tourists or people who originate from a certain locality, may meet. In recent years, both the verb and the noun have taken on the additional meaning of a location where two spacecraft are brought together for a limited period, usually for docking or retrieval.
Portmanteau words are called mot-valises in French. The word portemanteau (or porte-manteau) generally refers to a coat hanger nowadays. However, it used to also refer to a form of suitcase containing two separated hinged compartments, which metaphorically became a word containing two distinct words. Interestingly, the French word mot-valise literally means "suitcase-word".
^"Empire Corset". Evening Herald. Syracuse. March 1893. Still of course the short-waisted gowns mean short-waisted corsets and those ladies who wish to be in the real absolute fashion are adopting for evening wear the six-inch straight boned band or brassiere which Sarah Bernhardt made a necessity with her directoire gowns.
^"Brassiere". Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
^Source: universal French menu usage and Larousse "Grand Dictionnaire Français/Anglais - Anglais-Français": s.v. entrée (7): First course, starter: "je prendrai une salade en entrée — I'll have a salad to start with."