Is there in English a standard way of referring to a text in a foreign language whose original version contains English words?

E.g., if a text in French contains the word "writ", I'd write:

The authors cite a writ (English word in the French text).

I am looking for a more idiomatic version of the passage in bold, all variants I have tried return very few results in search engines.

EDIT: E.g., Proust has written

Mon gendre Saint-Loup connaît maintenant l’argot de tous les braves tommies,

which was translated

My son-in-law, Saint-Loup, knows the slang of all those brave ‘tommies’. (translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff)

The foreignness of the word tommies in the original text is difficult to render, since of course it is not foreign anymore in the translation, and Scott Moncrieff has used quotes to render it.

In a similar situation, e.g. when translating Shakespeare's line

BIRON – Allons! allons! Sow'd cockle reap'd no corn;

a French editor would make a footnote "en français dans le texte".

My question is, in the same situation, what would an English-language editor write to specify that it is the English word "tommies" that has been used?

  • 2
    I don't see the need to italicise an English word in English text. It's a writ. A French newspaper ran an article about Christmas pudding, not Christmas pudding Jun 13, 2018 at 16:21
  • In French, one italicises a foreign word on first use and puts it entre guillemets. Le mot « pudding » est souvent utilisé comme terme générique. Il désigne alors divers desserts comme les flans, le riz au lait et les crèmes… Il existe même des variantes de puddings salés. This is from a Groupe Verdie Voyages page about English puddings. Do you see where and why italics are used here? Jun 13, 2018 at 17:04
  • 1
    There are editorial conventions for presenting foreign-language words when used in (fit into the syntax of) an English-language sentence. But if you were going to quote a foreign-language word or sentence or paragraph from a foreign language text, those xenographic conventions would not apply. You would surround the word or sentence in quotation marks and set the paragraph off with block indent. In your example sentence, The authors cite a writ, every word is an English word. It doesn't matter where the word appears; what matters is whether the word itself is foreign or native. Jun 13, 2018 at 17:45
  • And are the French authors citing the word or the thing? The word writ or an actual writ, a particular writ? Jun 13, 2018 at 17:51
  • Unless quoting text that already has a word emphasized—in which case that should generally be preserved—the only reason to emphasize something is to mark it as particularly noteworthy. Everything being equal, an English word being presented to an English-speaking audience is not noteworthy at all. I would not italicize it. Jun 14, 2018 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


French speakers have a custom of writing en français dans le texte, but English speakers have no equivalent custom.

It's an interesting question, but as you've probably noticed, it seems to have confused everyone. That's because English speakers don't expect this sort of thing to be marked, so they have no idea why you're asking in the first place.

In my experience, translations into English generally don't have this sort of note. That doesn't mean you can't do it, but generally isn't done, so there isn't an established wording for such a note. Your wording isn't bad:

(English word in the French text)

Although I might use the word original:

(English word in the original)

But it's up to you exactly how you want to word it, since there's no established convention. I have seen another approach relatively often, however:

Translators sometimes substitute a loanword from a third language in an attempt to get the same feel across. The problem is that simply using an English word in English may seem plainer, less exotic, or have other differences in connotation, depending on the word and language pair being translated. If you select a loanword from another language carefully, you may be able to preserve the spirit of the original better than if you kept the original word unchanged.

But that all depends on your translation. Depending on the word, it may be perfectly appropriate to translate it into English using the English word, and simply not comment on the fact that it was a loanword from English in the original. Use your own judgment and decide for yourself.

  • To be fair to those who spent time posting comments, the question, after the edits, is much clearer now.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 19, 2018 at 22:40

I can't think of any reason an English word like "writ" would appear in a French text without quotation marks unless the French audience would understand it. I have checked with a native French professional (not in the legal profession) and they have never heard of the word "writ" in general use. The French word for a non-specific legal document is ordonnance.

It would seem that "writ" is not a "loanword" present in the French language, but to be used this way it must be expected to be understood the target audience. Perhaps those in the legal profession are familiar with it?

By way of example, there are countless Americanisms that are not used in British English but are widely understood because the British watch American TV and movies. I know what the "hood" and "trunk" of a car are, even though we don't call them that here. And perhaps more fittingly, I am familiar with the word "subpoena" (like writ, a legal term) because of its frequent use in US movies, even though here in the UK we call it a summons.

I would suggest then that your text refers to the English word "writ" because:

  • the target audience would understand it, either because of experience or from the context
  • translating it may have lost some of the meaning and so it was deliberately kept in English, perhaps even to indicate that it is an English document and to prompt research.

In the same way an English person may say "I went to France and ate crepe", without translating "crepe" into "pancake".

There may be no better way to express what you want to indicate than what you have already written.

Considering alternatives - although a little absurd in this situation, you could I suppose use the word "verbatim" which is Latin in origin but firmly embedded in English and used to denote an exact quote as written or spoken. This would show that you haven't translated the word, but may not get across the point that it is an English word being used by French. Another possibility, although a little problematic, is to insert another Latin word "sic" after the quoted word which also affirms that you are directly quoting from the source text. However, the primary modern use of this is to highlight errors in the original text from which you are quoting and so again this may not be what you are looking for.

The simplest alternative would be to introduce quotation marks around the word to show that you are quoting "as written".

  • A loanword is a word adopted from a foreign language, maybe it wasn't clear enough but the question is to describe the situation when the English word is used although it is not a common thing to do in the foreign language. I'll edit the question. Jun 19, 2018 at 21:45
  • @Joce okay, I have done a little more research and updated my comments. I have included some suggestions which I have admitted are far out, they may help someone reading this question in a similar but not identical scenario. On reflection I don't think there is a better way to highlight it than what you already said.
    – Astralbee
    Jun 20, 2018 at 8:52

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