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Femme fatale, meaning "an attractive and dangerous woman", is a French expression which has become part of the English language roughly since the beginning of the 20th century. Is there another English word or idiomatic expression which conveys the same meaning?

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As you say, femme fatale (not fatal, by the way), has become part of the English language. As such, the English word or idiomatic expression for femme fatale is, rather unsurprisingly, femme fatale. It is also the only expression that means that. Everything else will mean something ever-so-slightly different. That's the whole point of borrowing a word in the first place: because you do not already have it. –  RegDwigнt May 18 at 20:59
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"Rabbit cooker" : ) –  ipso May 18 at 21:03
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What's wrong with Femme Fatale? We have been importing French words and concocting (and cockneying) french words for centuries. Why make an exception? –  Blessed Geek May 18 at 21:20
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Mata Hari used to be used for such, but too much time has passed since World War One. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mata_Hari –  Wayfaring Stranger May 18 at 23:27
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So is the whole point of the question to use a word or phrase of wholly Anglo-Saxon origin (no loan words or imports)? –  Phil Perry May 19 at 18:48

13 Answers 13

up vote 66 down vote accepted

The English expression for femme fatale is femme fatale. No joke.

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You can choose any of courtesan, temptress, vamp, attractive woman, coquette, dangerous woman, deadly lady, deadly woman, enchantress, enticing woman, flirt, seductress, siren if you insist, but in all cases you lose the cultural ties-in that femme fatale provies. –  tchrist May 19 at 4:42
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Some of those (like "dangerous woman") mean the same thing. But many in this list are totally unrelated. –  Joe Blow May 20 at 19:00

Consider vamp and maneater.

vamp: a seductive woman who uses her sensuality to exploit men; femme fatale

A maneater is the female equivalent of a player. An irresistible woman who chews and spits out men after using them for some sort of gain -- be it sexual, financial, or psychological.

maneater: Slang. femme fatale

Alternately, mantrap might also fit for what you're looking for.

mantrap: Slang. a woman considered dangerously seductive and scheming; femme fatale

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Except that one's a shortening of vampire, which was borrowed from French as well, so you're back at square one. –  RegDwigнt May 18 at 21:07
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@RegDwigнt, if everything descending from another language is an invalid answer, then it would appear no answer on this site would be valid. Further, the English "vampire" may have skipped French "vampyre" entirely and come straight from German "vampir." There are also many other languages with a similarly-spelled/pronounced word with approximately the same meaning, so calling it a word borrowed from French is a bit shaky. –  Brian S May 19 at 14:42
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@BrianS Unlike "femme fatale," "vamp" is used as an anglicism in France. fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/vamp –  Elian May 19 at 15:03
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@BrianS I think you miss the point. Everything descending from another language is not an invalid answer on this site. However, everything descending from another language is an invalid answer to this particular question. I did not invent this restriction, the OP did. I am actually very much arguing the restriction makes no sense whatsoever. (As to vampire, I know the origin is disputed, but I am not buying for a second that English adds -e to German words like that. It simply does not. That final E is a dead giveaway we got it from the French, IMHO.) –  RegDwigнt May 19 at 15:47
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@BrianS According to Wikipedia, vampires were made up by the writer John Polidori (not Bram Stoker, btw), which would make the word 'vampire' originally an English word. –  poepje May 20 at 22:45

Try Delilah, enchantress or temptress. If she is a spymaster's decoy, she could also be a honey pot. The less flattering term bunny-boiler also exists, after actress Glenn Close's character in the 1987 movie Fatal Attraction.

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Delilah is good. –  Drew May 19 at 4:31
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Agreed on the "temptress". "Bunny-boiler", however, is more of "insane ex". –  Jenny D May 19 at 13:20
    
Fantastic point on honey pot in certain situations. Good one. –  Joe Blow May 20 at 19:01

You could use the word siren, based on Greek mythology. The Sirens were beautiful women who lured sailors into danger.

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Thus replacing French with Greek. –  bmargulies May 18 at 22:49
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@bmargulies Where do you think most English words come from? You would have to work hard to restrict answers to words of Germanic origin. –  200_success May 18 at 23:16
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Of course. I'm tweaking the OP's original desire to escape French. –  bmargulies May 19 at 0:34
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@bmargulies I can't speak for the OP, of course, but I don't think the goal is to completely escape loanwords, but only ones that shout their loanwordness - such as often being written in italics. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan May 19 at 3:57
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The word siren is English; the Greek word it derives from is seiren, Σειρήν. –  outis nihil May 19 at 15:17

Lots of words and expressions in foreign languages have no direct equivalent in English, and none have been devised, simply because it is easier to use the non-English. The foreign phrase conveys an established meaning, which an attempt at translation might lose.

See Oxford Dictionary of foreign phrases http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/foreign-words-and-phrases.

It translates femme fatale roughly as 'seductive woman', or 'disastrous woman'.

It is usual when using such expressions to put them in italics.

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Perhaps seductress

a woman who seduces, esp. one who seduces a man sexually

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The term I would use is black widow. The original, a spider, eats her mate after copulation.

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A "black widow" is a woman who marries and then kills her husband(s), which is more specific than "femme fatale". –  Blazemonger May 20 at 21:39

Succubus and black widow comes to mind.

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You could also use Honeypot or Honeytrap.

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This is a fascinating question. I note that nobody has referred to the phrase as clearly having TWO words Following this format, a translation would be "dangerous woman". Femme = woman Fatale = fatal, but is not meant to be so drastic, so dangerous is closer to what is implied.

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I am surprised nobody has suggested cougar, although that has more of a "dirty old man" connotation. Perhaps barracuda, which I have always interpreted to mean a cougar who is looking for someone her own age.

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The first word that comes to my mind is "vixen", which seems to capture both the danger and seduction of femme fatale.

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I also considered "vixen" as an answer. But, after looking up the definition online, I had like, you know, a change of mind. ;-) –  Elian May 19 at 21:52
    
A vixen is a female fox. –  Joe Blow May 20 at 19:03

I believe vamp, a shorten form of vampire used exclusively to describe females is perhaps the closest word that is I believe considered anglicized. Though its usage is fairly rare outside novels and movies, so I don't know how the general populace would recognize it.

Sharon Stone - might be a better choice, but not quite idiomatic, for a younger pop-culture obsessed audience.

Explanation: The movie Basic Instinct.

Or perhaps Nikita.

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protected by RegDwigнt May 23 at 20:01

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