Pretentious? Moi!?

Fawlty Towers usually relies on racial stereotyping, slapstick comedy and high farce for its laughter. There is some genuinely clever script-writing going on in there as well.

Sybil tells Basil about the joke she heard.. "Pretentious? Moi!?" followed soon after by her infectious laughter. Not only is this possibly the world's shortest joke, it also makes me wonder about my own usage of foreign words.

I saw a quote recently: "never use a foreign word or jargonistic terminology where ordinary English words will do"

The trouble with using foreign words (apart from the obvious danger of sounding pretentious) is that your viewers/listeners/readership won't understand what you're talking about. With a late 70's sitcom they could be fairly certain that most people would get the joke. French was pretty much universally taught as a second language in schools at the time. Plus "moi" is sufficiently close to "me" anyway. Nowadays fewer and fewer people are learning French so maybe we'll choose a different language to show off our linguistic skills with.

The French phrase "Bon appetit" is commonly used when wishing that someone enjoys their food. In Britain there isn't really any good phrase for saying this, apart from the less polite and distinctly Northern "Get that down you". We have plenty of salutations for drinking "Cheers", "Bottoms up" etc etc. I once tried using the Polish phrase "Smacznego" (literally meaning tasty I think). This wasn't well received, eliciting the response "Why don't you go back to Poland then, she's one year younger than me anyway"

Sometimes it's difficult to resist the lure of using foreign words. Some countries are just perceived as being cooler than England. My Polish lodger, for example, uses the greeting "Ciao". Ok, she works in an Italian restaurant, so maybe that's where she picked up the habit. 

Plenty of foreign words are adopted into the English language. Some of them will have a direct English equivalent. Take for example "passé". Should we be using "outmoded", "old-hat" instead? Maybe we should follow France's lead and have committees dedicated to preserving the purity of our native language. Has the time come when using foreign words has changed from being über-cool to merely passé?

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