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In English, we use a la carte and a la mode, but it is also common for people to add their own word to the basic construction.

For example, one might comment on someone's dancing:

He showed us some moves a la 1987.

One might comment on a public address:

She addressed the assembled parents a la Evita Perón.

This seems to mean "in the style of" or "reminiscent of." Does anyone know if this is consistent with the meaning in French?

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Very interesting question! Maybe worth noting that in French it’s ‘à la…’ (with a grave accent on the ‘a’), and even in the English casual use the accent is quite often retained. –  PLL Jan 28 '11 at 4:31
à la mode de Caen. –  Mitch Jul 14 at 2:44
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3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Yes, the French “à la” means “in the style of”. It is a shortening of “à la manière de” (“in the manner/style of”). It's widely used in French, and some examples in particular are:

  • in cooking: “à la diable” (with spicy sauce), “à la norvégienne” (Norway-style), ...
  • referring to persons (in particular, artists or philosophers) or movements: “à la cubiste” (cubist-style), “à la Sartre” (in the manner of writer Sartre), ...
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Note that the French do not use ala mode with the English meaning of "with ice cream on top". I've heard interesting stories of hapless travelers who used the phrase in France, assuming it was in fact French in origin. –  Wayne May 24 '11 at 18:30
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The meaning is not preserved, at least in sentences like

He showed us some moves à la 1987.

It's true that à la Evita Peron would mean in the style used by Evita Peron, and that French people would say à la française to mean in the French style, but à la 1987 would not mean in the style used on 1987.

The general meaning of à la in French is at the, to, but in some cases it can also mean by, in (the).

à la cime de l'arbre -> at the top of the tree
à la conclusion -> at the conclusion
à la fin de -> at the end
à la maison -> to home
à la hâte -> in haste
à la main -> by hand

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It could also mean braised with wine, but the first meaning reported from the NOAD is in fashion. –  kiamlaluno Jan 28 '11 at 8:42
“à la 1987 would not mean in the style used on 1987, nor would it have any meaning” – how do you make the arbitrary-seeming distinction between this use and other uses? It may not be common, granted, but I’m pretty sure that in context “à la 1976” would be (1) perfectly clear in meaning, and (2) a legitimate abbreviation of “à la façon de”. In general “à la” is commonly used in this sense. It’s true that it has other (primary) meanings but that doesn’t detract from this use. (For context, I have lived several years in France and have passed the baccalauréat.) –  Konrad Rudolph Jan 28 '11 at 11:48
@Konrad: That was my initial reaction as well, and my native language is French. It wouldn't be the best wording in all contexts, but it'd make sense. –  Borror0 Jan 28 '11 at 12:12
@Borror0 my native language is also French. Maybe it is just that I find it too weird, and I'm some sort of French grammar nazi. (That, and I try to teach correct French to my german girlfriend) But now that I think about it, it could make some sense... sort of. –  Eldroß Jan 28 '11 at 12:43
@Eldros: I'm from Québec. Perhaps that's where the difference comes from but I hear a lot of "à la X." I agree that "à la 1987" sounds a bit off in French, but it sounds off in English as well. It's not really a good example. –  Borror0 Jan 28 '11 at 12:50
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kiamlaluno is half right. À la would generally be literally translated by at the in english. However, in some case, it would have the same meaning as in english. Take for example the following expression meaning "to take French leave":

filer à l'anglaise

would be translated to:

flee english style

From the top of my head, I can only think of example using nationality, but I'm quite sure that it is used in other cases.

EDIT: If you want to have some sources in the web, Wiktionary confirms that the second meaning of the French word is in the manner of, in the style of

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Well, the words “à” and “la” happen to folllow one another frequently in French, with no special meaning: “give it to the waitress” is “donne-le à la serveuse”, for example. When it's an expression in itself, however, then it has the same meaning as in English. –  F'x Jan 28 '11 at 13:29
@FX_: That's exactly my point, where was I not clear about it? –  Eldroß Jan 28 '11 at 13:34
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