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The Tour de France: a tour de force

by: Anne O'Connell (15 July 2015)

Reading a newspaper article about the Tour de France this morning, I started thinking about the use of foreign words in English writing. Some are so well established that they have been incorporated into English usage and need no explanation. Other words and phrases are well known but still require presentation in italics (not quotation marks!) to mark them out as non-English.

The popularity of cycling has left its mark on the language: the competitors in the Tour de France ride in a peloton and negotiate a chicane by changing their derailleur gears. Even terms in common use can cause problems though: do make sure you use ‘en route’ not the jarring ‘on route’. You wouldn’t want to make a faux pas, would you?

Language evolves

Vocabulary and usage changes: while in a novel from the 1950s the characters might have visited a café, their modern counterparts would have their cappuccino in a cafe, in roman type without an accent. They would still eat pâté (with the accents) though.

I was asked the other day why some foreign place names have anglicised versions and others don’t. The answer is common usage. Livorno was previously called Leghorn by English speakers, but now it’s common to use local names unless there’s a convention to use the English version. Hence Florence, Padua, Tuscany rather than Firenze, Padova, Toscana. You could say that you’ve just been on holiday to Venezia (I had to get that in somewhere!) but unless you want to sound really pretentious, just say you’ve been to Venice.

A matter of style

Who is going to read your work? Something appropriate in one publication or medium may be confusing or clumsy in another. In an article for a general audience, italicisation of a word might be necessary to make its meaning clear, but in a specialist publication its use may be more common and therefore roman type more suitable.

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Ref: 184 Whenever I think of French/English somehow "mange tout" followed by "Rodney" always springs to mind....
Romany - 15:15 15-07-2015
Ref: 183 I still prefer café with an accent - though not in italics! Glad you were inspired by your trip to Venice!
Garry - 14:27 15-07-2015

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