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Is cafe an English word or a misspelling of café? The same goes for touche and touché.

This isn't the same as this since I'm asking if cafe is a English word, not if I should use a diacritical mark on the "e".

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    @sumelic I think the OP is asking about whether loan words from French are considered English words in their own right.
    – Lawrence
    May 5, 2016 at 2:17
  • It's "café" without the accent mark (which is difficult to obtain using an English typewriter, type setter, or computer keyboard).
    – Hot Licks
    May 5, 2016 at 2:20
  • @Lawrence is right. May 5, 2016 at 2:24
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    Cafe is well acclimatized, so it doesn't need the accent, and I've often heard it pronounced jocularly to rhyme with safe. Touché, on the other hand, has a very limited use. It arises in the sport of fencing, so it's a technical term in origin, and used to mean a hit metaphorically. It seems really odd to me to spell it without the accent. But then the standard American for coupé is coupe without the accent, and pronounced like a chicken coop.
    – frank
    May 5, 2016 at 6:27

1 Answer 1

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You are asking whether loanwords from French are considered English words in their own right.

According to Loanwords: major periods of borrowing in the history of English by Prof. S. Kemmer of Rice University, loanwords generally go through the following process:

  1. the word in the foreign language (let's say, French, for simplicity in the following) is used in the borrowing language (e.g. English), likely when conversing with others who understand the French word;
  2. the word is used by people who understand the French word when conversing with people not familiar with the French word. It's now called a foreign word - Kemmer cites as examples, bon vivant (French), mutatis mutandis (Latin), and Schadenfreude (German); and finally,
  3. people who don't understand the French word use the word - it is now conventionalized and is called a borrowing or loanword.

It is implied that loanwords are English words in their own right, based on indisputable examples "of the loanwords that came into English" (as Kemmer puts it), such as anchor and butter (from the Germanic period).

Since both the words you mention (cafe and touché) originated from the French but are used by non-French people, they would be considered loanwords in English, and hence English words in their own right.

Whether the forms without the diacritical marks are misspellings is debatable. ODO lists cafe and touché in those forms, diacritical marks absent from one and present in the other. Hence cafe is definitely not a misspelling. As for touche, it is arguably a misspelling; but since English doesn't generally use diacritical marks, it may be acceptable to some. As for statistics, touche is several times more prevalent touché based on the database used by Ngram.

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    Just as a supplement to this very sound discussion, note that many dictionaries list multiple spellings for certain words. Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, for example, gives the spelling of the word in question as "café also cafe." So if you follow that dictionary, (1) you can choose either spelling and not be wrong, and (2) both variants represent correct spellings of "an English word."
    – Sven Yargs
    May 5, 2016 at 6:01
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    As a sidenote, the Cockneys in London have fully adopted the word cafe so that in slang they say "I'm going down to the cafe," but it's pronounced "Ah'm gawn dahn-a-kaf". So, in that usage, the accent on the last "e" in cafe is immaterial, since the sound is not pronounced at all.
    – jaxter
    Sep 28, 2016 at 3:36

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