French Words - Le Mot Juste

French words and expressions in Wodehouse - A lexicographical inventory

Hundreds of French words and phrases are scattered throughout the works of P.G. Wodehouse. 'Hundreds' is an approximate term, because hitherto no attempt has been made to establish a complete list, a Wodehousian French-English dictionary. This will change, with the help of all Wodehousians who will, when reading, make a note of French words that they come across, and share their notes with Ken Clevenger (US) and Ole van Luyn (NL) who intend to use existing networks to encourage Wodehouse lovers worldwide to participate in this venture.
This webpage is a dedicated page and the repository of all those French words, so that one and all may access it, either to find the meaning of a specific words or for scholarly research into the phenomenon of Wodehouse's use of French. The intended inventory is strictly alphabetical, on the basis of the French expressions (in full) and words as found in the text. Thus, for example, we will find En secondes noces, Noblesse oblige, Tout ce qu'il y a de chic and Vis-à-vis (taken at random from Right Ho, Jeeves chapt. 2 and 4) in that order, even though a traditional dictionary might list the first one as Noces, secondes, en and the third one as Chic, tout ce qu'il y a de. Although this might worry the average lexicographer, the intention is not to publish a dictionary proper but to provide a tool for those of us whose knowledge of the French language is more limited than Wodehouse's, as a reader's aid. In this context it may be noted that French words such as pince-nez and lieu that have become accepted in the English language as used in the UK and/or in the USA (and are found in dictionaries) may be taken up in the Inventory if they are not in everyday usage, as judged by the initiators.

Contributors are asked to be precise in communicating book or short story title. Title abbreviations will be based on the abbreviations codes in Garrison & Midkiff: Who is Who in Wodehouse, 3rd (expanded) edition. The initiators express their grateful thanks to those two outstanding Wodehousians for their kind permission to use those useful codes. It is the intention of the initiators that the Lexicographical Inventory will not be considered as their intellectual property but that it will be in the public domain.

Those located in North America are invited to send the French words and expressions they found to Ken Clevenger and others to Ole van Luyn. However, all will find their way to Ken and Ole, who will act as editors to the Inventory.

May 2021

Lexicographical inventory

In the following lexicographical inventory each word and expression is followed by a translation and by a code. The code is based upon Garrison & Midkiff as mentioned above, and consists of two letters and a two digit date that indicate the novel or date digits and two letters for a short story title, an oblique stroke and a number, which is the number of the chapter in which it is found. In some works the chapters are divided into numbered sections; if there is a hyphen and a number this will indicate the section within the chapter.
For finding out more about coding and about Who is Who in Wodehouse, you may want to go the website Madame Eulalie.

Abandon: (a noun, not a verb) a feeling of being without a care in the world [NG07/Part 2/1]
Affaire: term for 'something a person does' which has many meanings and thus may be translated into different English words. Here 'the business with' would fit best [AS22/4, LC21/13]
Aide de camp: an officer who is a General's assistant [PH31/19]
À la carte: following one's own choice from the dishes on the menu [GBTWB08/p.87]
Alors: so [HW32/10-1]
Ancien régime: the olden days – before the (French) Revolution [BW32/10-1]
Aplomb: an attitude that conveys self confidence [PB69/8-1]
À propos: usually followed by a word or several words, meaning 'concerning…' or 'speaking of…' However, the expression 'à propos des bottes' (which should be 'de bottes') means something like 'unrelated to anything else' [LC21/12]
À quoi sert-il?: what's the use? [RH34/23]
Argot: slang, thieves' lingo, now mostly antiquated [RH34/7]
Assassin: murderer [HW32/12]
Au pied de la lettre: literally [RH34/13, RH34/15, SS61/1-1, SS61/5-1]
Au revoir: goodbye (literally: until we see each other again) [PH31/7]
Avocat: a lawyer who speaks as a defender in a criminal court, or as the representative of a party in a civil court, barrister, solicitor [PH31/14]

Bal Bullier: while the word bal in French means a ball, a dancing event, it may also mean (as it does here) a dance-hall or ballroom. The eponymous ballroom was established in mid-19th century by François Bullier [GB65/6-1]
Beau: beautiful, fine [HW32/10-1]
Bien être: usually spelt bien-être, a pleasant feeling, due to the absence of physical and psychological pressure or tensions [BW52/11, GWTWB08/p.87]
Bois: wood, in this context probably the Bois Boulogne, a famous extensively wooded park for walks or rides in Paris [PH31/14]
Blase: properly spelt blasé, feminine blasée, tired of pleasure, having lost interest in fun, perhaps because of over-indulging [HW32/8-5, PH02/14]
Blessée: wounded, hurt (referring to a female person) [AS22/2-3]
Bon soir: good evening, usually
Bon viveurs: usually bons vivants: easy-going jovial gentlemen who enjoy life [GBTWB08/p.90]
Bottes: boots. However, in LC21/12 it is used as part of a French expression. See also À propos [LC21/12]
Boudoir: an elegant – and rather private - ladies' room [PB69/8-1, PB69/8-2]
Boule: in the context of 'a mild game' and in the plural, boules or jeu de boules, is possibly related to bowls [AS22/3-1]
Boulevardier: a dapper person strolling along the boulevards [RH34/22]
Boum!: same as 'boom!', as it is spelt in French, but in the AS22 context probably the waiter's attempt to say 'bon' in 'the Anglo-Gallic dialect of the travelling Briton' [AS22/3-3]
Bourgeois: citizen, in a positive sense – certainly in this context [HW32/3]

Cause célèbre: scandal or law-suit that attracts much media attention [GBTWB08/p.101]
Ce n'est pas le diable: it is not totally awful [TSA14Notes, essay]
C'est terrible: it is very bad [TSA14Notes, essay]
C'est vrai: it's true [HW32/10-1]
Chamois: an agile goat-size wild antelope found on Alpine and other European peaks [TM22/2-3]
Château: castle [HW32/1 and in many other places]
Chef: a professional cook in restaurant or hotel [RH34/8]
Chef d'oeuvre: masterpiece [TSA 13WO]
Chemin-de-fer: in French usually without the hyphens: (1) railroad, (2) a game of chance [HW32/7]
Cherchez: search, look for, try to find [NG07/Part 2/9]
Chic: as a noun meaning elegance, character, originality and as an adjective meaning dressed with elegance and good taste [19SF]
Collaborateurs: colleagues, co-workers [GB04/8]
Comme ça: that way, like that [GBTWB08/p.56]
Conte: story, tale, narration [RH34/17]
Contretemps: events (the plural is the same as the singular) that are the unpleasant opposite of what one would have preferred or expected [NG07/Part 2/20]
Coriace: hard as leather, rugged. In view of the very slight semantic difference with dur (q.v.) Wodehouse, in the quote, humorously refers to Gustave Flaubert (see Mot juste, below) [GB65/3-1]
Coup de grace: the last word should be spelt grâce. It is a deadly blow or stroke, often applied to end someone's (or some animal's) sufferings [NG07/Part 2/22, PU03/11]
Crème de menthe: a sweet (and usually green) mint-flavoured liqueur [SW09/Part 1/7]
Crêpe royale: a soft and supply flowing fabric that doesn't crease easily [HW32/2-1]
Critique: a critical analysis or evaluation [RH34/13-15]
Croupier: casino staff member who turns the wheel of a roulette table and rakes the chips in [HW32/1-1]
Cul-de-sac: dead-end street [GB65/3-1]

Débonair: should be débonnaire, peaceful, pleasant, gentle; as in a person's demeanour [GBTWB08/p.121]
Début: start, beginning, first appearance on stage etc. [GBTWB08/p. 107, SW09/Part 2/3]
Déjeuner: Lunch, whereas petit déjeuner is breakfast [GBTWB08/p.87]
Depôt: correctly spelt dépôt, in this context a dumping ground [HK04/12]
De rigueur: according to strict etiquette, obligatory [RH34/2]
Dernier cri: literally the last cry or shout, meaning the most recent thing in the world of fashion [GBTWB08/p.102]
Déshabillé: loose and light informal clothes [HK04/7]
Devoirs: a rare case of Wodehouse conflating a French and an English expression: présenter ses devoirs means to pay one's respects [NG07/Part 2/15]
Dilettante: someone who may try something but has not got the training for it [TSA15Talking about Cricket essay]
Diligence: as a means of transport: a horse-drawn omnibus [NG07/Part 1/2]
Dur: hard, tough, hard-boiled (as said of a person) [GB65/3-1]

Éclat: with a shining, brilliant or even showy performance [LC21/11]
Edition de luxe: the protagonist has written an ode which he copied 'in his best handwriting', thus producing 'a sort of edition de luxe'. An édtion de luxe usually is a beautifully bound book, often a classic [GBTWB08/p.50, TSA 01PP]
Elan: correctly spelt élan, an amalgam of speed, enthusiasm and ardour [PB69/8-1]
Élite: top level people, particularly in terms of culture and education [GBTWB08/p.50]
En brosse: a type of haircut, literally 'in the shape of a brush', a brushy look [HW32/2-1]
En casserole: in a casserole, which is a metal pan with a handle [GB65/8-3]
Encore de coffee: (in proper French: encore du café) more coffee please [HW32/11-4]
En déshabillé: in loose, informal clothing [RH34/22]
En masse: in great quantities, as one body [PH02/3]
En rapport: in touch (with), in contact (with) [NG07/Part 1/2]
En route: on his or her way [AS22/3-1, GB65/7-4, GBTWB08/p.128]
En secondes noces: in a second marriage [RH34/4]
Entente cordiale: literally a warm and friendly mutual understanding, and thus also the usual term for the 1904 French-British treaty [GB04/24, GBTWB08/p. 6 of pink insert, LC21/11, NG07/Part 2/20]
Entr'actes: (usually spelt entractes) intermissions between acts of a theatre play [NG07/Part 2/26]
Entrechat: in ballet, a high leap during which the legs rapidly cross [PB69/7-3]
Epatant: correctly spelt épatant, brilliant, amazing [AS22/3-1]
Espièglerie: liveliness with a touch of malice – but in a jocular and pleasant way [NG07/Part 2/23, GBTWB08/p.12]
Étrangers: foreigners [HW32/2-3 and in many other places]
Exposé: a public statement, e.g. in a newspaper, about a disreputable event or scandal [GWTWB08/p.120]

Farceur: a joker, a person who makes jokes [HW32/2-1]
Faute de mieux: without a better option [RH34/9]
Femme fatale : a woman who gives one the impression that her actions, or contact with her, may have dire consequences [BW52/11]
Fiche de camp, toi: (2nd word should be le, not de) You! Get lost! [PH31/19]
Figaro: Le Figaro is a conservative but respected national newspaper [HW32/5]
Folies Bergères: the second word spelt correctly Bergère, after the Rue Bergère. A theatre in Paris famous for its great musical shows, often in the nature of a cabaret with countless showgirls, frequently scantily clad [PH31/14]
Fracas: loud and riotous noise [GB04/24]
Frisson: a shiver or chill – often metaphorical [RH34/20]

Gendarme: member of the national police force; see gendarmerie [HW32/14-1]
Gendarmerie: the national police force, especially but not solely active in rural areas; also their barracks and offices [HW32/6-1, HW32/12, HW32/16-5]

Habitué: a person who usually visits a specific place, such as a café or a theatre [SW09/Part 2/5]
Hauteur: literally a height, but in this context an attitude of arrogance [PH02/3]
Haut Monde: literally 'the high world', i.e. the higher and wealthier levels of society [GB65/3-1]
Hurluberlu: a bizarre idiot [RH39/20]

Ici on parle Français: French is spoken here [SW09/Part 1/2]
Idée fixe: an idea that dominates the mind, that seems unchangeable [RH34/12]
Indubitably le diable: in the given context one would translate 'without any doubt the devil' but here 'the diable' means 'diabolical' [TSA14Notes, essay]
Insouciance: carelessness, a state of being unconcerned [TSA15Talking about Cricket essay]
Instructeur: teacher [HW32/10-1]

Jacquerie: the peasants' revolt of 1358. Without the capital J: a peasants' revolt in general [HW322-1]
Je-ne-sais-quoi: literally 'I don't know what', meaning: something that one cannot define or describe, but about which one is certain, such as 'a certain something' [GBTWB08/p.129, SW09/Part 1/1PU03/1, 19SF, TSA15Talking about Cricket essay]
J'espère que vous n'êtes pas blessée: I hope that you aren't hurt [AS22/2-3]
Jeu de mots: play on words, pun [HK04/15]
Jeu d'esprit: a humorous, witty play on words [GBTWB08/p. 6 of pink insert]
Joie de vivre: pleasure of life, of being alive [WF07/1]


Lentement: slowly [AS22/2-3]
Le Petit St. Roqueois: "The Little (newspaper) of Saint Roque" might have existed if there was a village called Saint Roque [HW32/5]

Macedoine: properly spelt macédoine, a mixture of different cut-up vegetables or fruits, also used figuratively, as a mixture of different parts [HW32/17-2]
Mais: but [HW32/10-1]
Mais oui!: of course! Certainly! [HW32/10-1]
Mais retournez à nos moutons: but please go back to where we were at, in our conversation [GBTWB08/p.114]
Maître: used to address a highly competent and wise person who may be in a position to teach, to instruct others who aspire to learn and to grow in knowledge [BW52/21, PH31/14]
Mal-de-mer: sea-sickness, used in the trade name of tablets [HW32/1-1]
Malgré lui: in spite of himself, whereas he really did not want to [GB04/13]
Marmiton de Domange: night soil man, sewer cleaner (argot) [RH34/20]
Mille: thousand. In a mille: a 1,000 francs note [HW32/1-4, HW32/8-2]
Mon vieux: old chap [HW32/10-1]
Morceaux: plural of morceau, which is a piece or a bit from a larger item, primarily from something edible, but also used in other contexts. Here the text refers to pieces of music, which is still within the French idiom [GB65/9-3]
Motif: main subject or idea in a work of art [RH34/11]
Mot juste: the right word or phrase in the right place, a term coined by Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary [BW52/2, HW32/14-2, PB69/8-1, RH34/17]
Mousse: a creamy, frothy dessert [RH34/6]
M’sieu: a phonetic rendering of Monsieur, both as 'sir' and as 'Mr.', squeezed into a single syllable [ PH31/19]

Naïve: feminine form of naïf, meaning pleasantly simple, unaffected, innocent, natural [NG07/Part 2/26]
Noblesse oblige: being a person of noble birth entails honourable behaviour [HW32/1-4, RH34/4]
Nom de plume: literally: a pen-name, usually a writer's pseudonym [NG07/Part 2/11]
Nom d'un nom d'un nom: a rather fruity equivalent of "Damn!", derived from "Nom de Dieu!" [RH34/20]
Nom d'une pipe!: 'name of a pipe!' is a common innocent derivative from Nom de Dieu! (Name of God), considered to be a rude expletive [HW32/10-1]

Omelette (fines herbes): omelet (with savoury herbs) [HW32/11-4]
Outré: beyond normal an decent behaviour [GBTWB08/p.45]

Panache: in this context a jovial devil-may-care attitude with a touch of pride [NG07/Part 2/3]
Parbleu!: an innocent old-fashioned swear-word, such as 'forsooth!' [HW32/10-1]
Parfaitement: exactly [HW32/10-1]
Passé: past its time, over-ripe [NG07/Part 2/7]
Pas seul: this could mean 'not alone', but in the SS61 context this is 'pas' in de ballet vocabulary of 'step', hence a dance figure – as the singular of a 'pas de deux' [SS61/12-1, TM22/17-1]
Pas seuls: plural of Pas seul, above [PB69/7-3]
Pas si vite: not so fast [AS22/2-3]
Pâtés: pies [NG07/Part 2/15]
Pension: boarding house, guesthouse [AS22/2-4]
Perdu: lost [AS22/2-5]
Personnel: staff, employees [HW32/4]
Petite: of a female person, small – but often used as a positive appreciation [NG07/Part 2/15, GBTWB08/p.102]
Pied-à-terre: a simple place to stay, for one or for more short stays [NG07/Part 2/1, SW09/Part 1/2]
Pierrot: the classic silent clown in flowing white garb [HW32/3]
Pignouf: an uncouth person, an oik (argot) [RH34/20]
Pince-nez: eyeglasses with a spring to clip the nose [PB69/1-1, PB69/7-3]
Pique: the sentiment of one's feelings being somewhat hurt due to someone else's unfriendly remark or action [BW52/1]
Plage: beach, also to be translated as 'on sea' , e.g. in a name of a town such as Roville plage [AS22/2-1]
Point d'appui: fulcrum, bearing point, base. Wodehouse uses the term approximately to mean 'where it all started', or, as he puts it: the 'inception if inception is the word I want' [RH34/1]
Politesse: good manners [HW32/10-1]
Portière: a curtain closing off a passage with or without a door [NG07/Part 2/15]
Pot-pourri: a mixture of bits and pieces, a stew or a hotch-potch, but also a mixture of fragrant dried flowers – which is the meaning of the word here [PB69/7-3, TM22/15]
Pourparlers, occasionally erroneously spelt pour-parlers: negotiations, discussions [BW52/20, GB65/10-2, RH34/11, SS61/5-2, TM22/4-1]
Première: the first performance of a theatre play [NG07/Part 2/26]
Purée: fruit etc. mashed to a thick mass or sauce [RH34/21]


Rapport: positive relationship, affinity [GB65/2-1]
Rencontres: meetings [WF07/6]
Rendez-vous: meeting, meeting-place [NG07/Part 2/24]
Repertoire: correctly spelt répertoire, in this context the totality of all works and roles that a actor has played and for which she or he may be famous [BW52/21]
Résumé: summary [HW32/13]
Retroussé: of a nose, elegantly and attractively turned up [NG07/Part 2/15]
Réveille: bugle wake-up signal in military or scouting camps [HK04/6 & 8]
Reverie: correctly spelt rêverie, a state of dreaminess, musing, day-dreaming [GBTWB08/p.51]
Rogommier: should probably be rogonnier, a grumbler [RH34/22]
Rôle: theatrical role [HK04/1, NG07/Part 2/16]
Rosbif: Roast beef, pronounced the French way. 'Les rosbifs' is a colloquial way the French may refer to the English like the British might use 'Frogs' for the French [AS22/3-3]
Roustisseur: beggar, thief (argot) [RH34/20]

Salle de bain: bathroom, not (as in the US) a toilet, but a room with a bath or shower [RH34/9]
Sang-froid: literally 'cold blood', meaning self-control, calm, or even with some lack of feeling [PU03/6, PU03/12]
Sauve qui peut: the equivalent of 'every man for himself; in the context a throng of people all pushing to be first [LC21/3]
Scélérat: a criminal [HW32/12]
Seigneur: Lord, as in 'Lord of the Manor' [HW32/5]
Les Serfs d'Avenir: in a feudal system a serf is a person who, with his family, is attached to the soil and its owner. Here one would have expected 'serves' (female) and 'de l'avenir' (with the particle). Avenir means 'future', therefore 'the female serfs of the Future' [NG07/Part 2/23]
Smoking: used in France and many European countries for a dinner jacket (UK) or tuxedo (US) [RH34/9]
Soleil: the sun [HW32/10-1]

Table d'hôte: a set meal of two or three courses offered in a restaurant for a fixed price; that is to say, not à la carte [NG07/Part 2/6]
Tête-à-tête: private conversation between two persons [AS22/3-1, GBTWB08/p.48, HW32/14-3, NG07/Part 2/15, PH02/13, RH34/19]
Tour de force: a feat of exceptional strength or skill [NG07/Part 1/1]
Tout ce qu'il y a de chic: the last word in chic (see chic, above) [RH34/1, RH34/2]
Tout ensemble: all taken together [SW09/Part 1/1]
Tout Passe: everything passes on, nothing is permanent – a French saying that is here the title of a waltz being played [NG07/Part 2/15 & 23]


Vers libre: literally 'free verse', meaning a poetic tradition which chooses not to follow tradi-tional metre, rhythm and/or rhyme [TM22/2-2]
Viconte: viscount [HW32/1-1 and in many other places]
Vis-à-vis: face to face, facing each other [RH34/4]
Vive: long live, as in 'long live the king! [PH31/19]
V'la!: correctly spelt voilà! a one-syllable pronunciation of same, meaning: There!, Look! Done! Without the exclamation mark voilà means 'look there' or 'see' [AS22/2-4, AS22/3-3]
Voila comme des accidents arrivent: that is how accidents happen. Voila should be spelt Voilà. See also V'la! [PH02/5]
Volte-face: literally best translated as 'turn-around' it may be used for a total change of opinion or attitude [BW 52/13]




Zut!: an all-purpose interjection, usually with the exclamation mark, meaning Blast! or Drat! [AS22/2-4, HW32/2-1]

AS22: The Adventures of Sally
BW52: Barmy in Wonderland
GB04: The Gold Bat
GB65: Galahad at Blandings
GBTWB: This book, The Globe, is not divided into chapters, so page numbers are given. For information about the book, usually not mentioned in bibliographies, see the website Madame Eulalie
HK04: The Head of Kay's
HW32: Hot Water
LC21: Love among the Chickens
NG07: Not George Washington
PB69: A Pelican at Blandings
PH02: The Pothunters
PH31: Prince for Hire
PU03: A Prefect's Uncle
RH34: Right Ho, Jeeves
19SF: The Spring Suit
SB77: Sunset at Blandings
SS61: Service with a Smile
SW09: The Swoop
TM22: The Girl on the Boat (UK title) or Three Men and a Maid (US title)
TSA: Tales fo St.Austin's (numbering according to index plus titles' initials)
WF07: The White Feather

LS08: The Luck Stone
WT04: William Tell Told Again

The Adventures of Sally (1922)Barmy in Wonderland (1952)The Gold Bat (1904)Galahad at Blandings (1965)The Globe by the Way Book (1908)The Head of Kay's (1904)Hot Water (1932)Love among the Chickens (1921)The Luck Stone (1908)Not George Washington (1907)A Pelican at Blandings (1969)The Pothunters (1902)A Prince for Hire (1931)A Prefect's Uncle (1903)Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)The Spring Suit (1919)Sunset at Blandings (1977)Service with a Smile (1961)The Swoop (1909)Three Men and a Maid (1922)Tales of St. Austin's (1903)The White Feather (1907)William Tell Told Again (1904)