So we’re back with part two of our misspelled and misused foreign phrases. I really hope you enjoyed part one and found some of the information helpful.

Since I had so much fun with the word Kummerspeck, which, if you read part one, you’d know is German for the excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally translated, it’s grief bacon. Today’s phrase is l’esprit de l’escalier, which translates to “wit of the staircase” but is the perfect comeback you think of when it’s too late to reply. I’m sure you’re familiar with the feeling. Goodness knows I am.

Below is a continuation of the words or phrases we’ve seen misspelled or misused:

En masse – misspelled as on mass: French for “in mass,” in English we generally use it to mean in one body or as a whole. En in French means “in,” but we find a lot of authors use the phonetic spelling instead of the French one.

En route – misspelled as on route: In a similar fashion as en masse, en route is often misspelled with the phonetic “on” instead of the French “en.” French for “on or along the way,” we use it in English to mean exactly the same.

Flak – misspelled as flack: Flak is a German acronym for Fliegerabwehrkanonen, an antiaircraft gun, in military terms, it can mean the gun or the shells fired from the gun. Generally speaking, in English we use it to mean “criticism or opposition one receives for their actions or opinion.”

Ad nauseam – misspelled as ad nauseum: This is another phonetic misspelling editors see often. Ad nauseam is Latin for “to the point of nausea”; however in English we don’t use it as literally. Most often, we use it to mean something that is done to a ridiculous, extensive degree.

Bona fide – misspelled as bonafide: Latin for in good faith, bona fide is used in a similar manner in English—valid, sincere, or in good faith. However, it is always two words.

Ad hoc – misspelled as adhoc: Translated from Latin as “for this,” ad hoc is most often used in English to mean “for a specific purpose” or “fashioned from what is available.” Like bona fide, it’s always two words.

foreign phrases

Cul-de-sac – misspelled as cuddle sack: Yep, cuddle sack. Literally “bottom of the bag” in French, a cul-de-sac is a point where you can go no further. Most often used in terms of roads, it’s a dead-end street with a circular turnaround area.

Tête-à-tête – misspelled as tet a tet: French for “head to head,” a tête-à-tête is a private, personal conversation between two people. In adjective or adverb form, it means “face to face.” All those accents are required. Yes, I’m sure.

Verbatim – misspelled as verbatum: This one’s less of a foreign word than it is a derivative; verbatim is derived from Latin verbum, which means “word.” And since many pronounce the ending syllable “um,” it’s often misspelled verbatum

Au contraire – misspelled as oh contraire: I saved this one for last because it was suggested by a reader, not a misspelling I’ve personally seen. Au contraire is French for “on the contrary,” and we use it in the same context in English. I can see how this confusion can happen, though, as au and oh have basically the same pronunciation.

And there you have it—our list of misspelled and misused foreign words and phrases. I’m sure other writers and editors have come across many more. What phrases have you seen misspelled or misused? I’d love to read about them in the comments!

Happy writing!


  1. Anne Hammond Says: July 14, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Cul-de-sac (literally bag’s arse) is used in the UK – never in France. French people fall about laughing when they see the sign at the opening to dead end streets.

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