Vocabulary Enrichment: foreign words and phrases that trip us up

Those of you who have already gotten the nod from your schools (congrats!) have probably begun to mentally and physically prepare yourself for this new and exciting endeavor. Whether you are planning the details of job-quitting, or are thinking of trading your sweet ride for a not-so-sweet one, or have started to subscribe to BW or WSJ, chances are your mind is already in B-School.

I came across a series of foreign words and phrases that may prove useful to many of us. You may know some of these words/phrases, or may find that you have been using them incorrectly. Regardless, these phrases and words should contribute to your vocabulary enrichment and could save you some confusion.

Words You Might Read

Ad Hominem (add HAH-mim-em) Latin
Definition: Appealing to prejudices and emotions rather than reasons.
Usage: It was clear Janet would lose her bid for the condo board when she responded to her opponent with the ad hominem attack “I’m sure your pet rat- or is it a Yorkie?- brings you much joy.”
Good-to-know: Ad hominem is often followed by the word attack.

E.G. (abbreviation for exempli gratia) Latin
Definition: For example.
Usage: While arachnophobia is fairly common, there are far more unusual fears, e.g., arachibutyrophobia – the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth.

Après (AH-pray) French
Definition: After.
Usage: She loves the après-ski ritual – wearing a colorful sweater and drinking hot toddies – even though she never skis.

I.E. (abbreviation for id est) Latin
Definition: In other words.
Usage: Even today he suffers from coulrophobia – i.e., a morbid fear of clowns.
Good-to-know: These two abbreviations are often incorrectly reversed. Remember that e.g. is used to illustrate a point, while i.e. is used to clarify it.

Bête Noire (bet NWAHR) French
Definition: A dreaded or detested person or thing.
Usage: At large family gatherings, my sister-in-law is my bête noire, lurking in the kitchen and criticizing my cooking skills.

Quid Pro Quo (kwid proh KWOH) Latin
Definition: An equal exchange.
Usage: Quid pro quo, kiddo: You clean your room and I’ll let you have an extra hour on the GameCube.

Sturm und Drang (SHTOORM oont DRONG) German
Definition: Turmoil, upheaval.
Usage: The memo declaring an end to casual Fridays caused no end of Sturm und Drang among my jeans-loving officemates.

Words You Might Say

Ad Nauseam (add NAWZ-ee-am) Latin
Definition: To a sickening degree.
Usage: My neighbor fretted about her garden ad nauseam, but I could not care less about her bad bulb season.

Chez (shay) French
Definition: At the home of; at or by. Often used with the French word nous (we), meaning “at our home”.
Usage: You’re invited to a party chez nous.
Good-to-know: Don’t say “You’re invited to a part at chez nous.”

Faux Pas (foe pah) French
Definition: A social blunder.
Usage: Criticizing the boss’ daughter was just her first faux pas on the new job.

Mensch (mentsh) Yiddish
Definition: A person of honor and integrity; a decent, upright person.
Usage: His grandfather always used to tell him, “Comb your hair, straighten your tie, look people in the eye, and be a mensch.”
Good-to-know: The word mensch may sound less complimentary than it is. Many people mistake it for a put-down.

Vis-À-vis (VEZZ-ah-Vee) French
Definition: Face-to-face with; compared with; in regard to.
Usage: My thoughts vis-À-vis the new highway are mixed; it will be good for business but will also increase pollution and noise.
Good-to-know: Vis-À-vis is most often misused as a way to describe an agreement between two people.

Shmooze (shmooz) Yiddish
Definition: To talk casually, chat, network.
Usage: In Hollywood it’s all about whom you know – and shmoozing really pays off.

Shlep (shlep) Yiddish
Definition: To drag, carry with difficulty, travel slowly or awkwardly.
Usage: The elevator was on the fritz, so we had to shlep our suitcases all the way up.

Shlemiel (shleh-MEEL) Yiddish
Shlimazel (shlih-MAH-zull) Yiddish
Definition: The shlemiel is a fool; the shlimazel is an unlucky person. The shlemiel is forever messing things up, while the shlimazel is always on the wrong end of the shlemiel’s foul-ups.
Usage: That shlemiel can get lost driving around the block. Take it from the shlimazel who gets a ride with him every day.
Good-to-know: Both words entered common American conversation with the theme song to TV’s Laverne and Shirley, which kicked off with “Shlemiel, shlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated…”