The English language has a complex history of about two thousand years and has absorbed vocabulary and grammar from dozens of other languages. So it should be no surprise that the way words are used, spelled, and pronounced in English are worlds away from the way they were spoken and used in their original language.

So what do we mean by a “foreign” word in English? We mean a word that has not yet been assimilated into the English language. No time for an exhaustive treatise on the assimilation of words into English, but please take a few minutes to browse here for a fascinating treatise on how “Gallicisms,” or words borrowed from the French language found a home in English.

But how do we deal with foreign words, that is words that may be on their way to becoming English words but aren’t there yet?

General rule

The general rule  is that we italicize the word or words and move on with the topic.

Example: The comment was just an hors d’oeuvre on the political menu.

The secondary rule is to italicize unless you’re sure it is a bona fide English word, like “bona fide.”

The third rule is not to pour a lot of foreign words or expressions into your writing unless there is an overwhelming reason to do so. 

I guess the best rule to remember is…

When in doubt…tip it! (italicize it!)

Submitted by Joyce Griffith, MBA
Native-born American, writer, and editor