Walla and no further adieu

Most people who insert foreign-language phrases and expressions into their materials do so because it makes them appear to be intelligent and sophisticated, n’est-ce pas? That is, it does unless they misspell the phrase or don’t really understand what it means.

A particularly common error involves using the marvelous French word “voilà” (“behold” or “there it is”) as an interjection to show some sort of excited completion, as in “Voilà, the team’s project is done!” People who have heard the word in conversation will often spell it “walla” (which is half of a city in Washington State, but nothing in France).

The same thing happens with the Spanish word “nada,” which translates to “nothing.” If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone use “notta” or a similar misspelling, I’d be able to afford a vacation to Spain.

Some people use foreign words when they really meant to use English sound-alikes. For example, a writer who should know better used the phrase “without further adieu” when he clearly meant to say “without further ado.” “Adieu” is French for “good-bye.”

Should you avoid foreign phrases? Not at all! Just be sure you spell them correctly and use them in their proper context. You don’t have to become fluent in another language, but learning some of its basic rules will help you appear to be just as smart as you want to be.

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