| Wednesday, January 11, 2006
| LEXICON -- FRENCH PHRASES THAT WENT TO WEBSTER
|A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF JE NE SAIS QUOI
BETE NOIRE (bet-NWAR):Literally, black beast; someone or something that one fears, dislikes, or characteristically avoids.
RE RIGUEUR (de-ree-GHUR): Absolutely by good form if nothing else.Two us in rigueur, a relative of our "rigor".
FAIT ACCOMPLI(fet-a-kom-PLEE): Literally, accomplished fact; a thing already consummated, so that fighting it is useless, and changing it impossible.
PAR EXCELLENCE(par-ek-sel-AHNSE): Above all others of the same type, literally by (virtue of its) excellence.
RAISON D'ETRE(ray-sohn-DETR):"Reason for being" justification for one's existence.
CARTE BLANCHE (kart-BLAHNSH) "White paper", a sheet that's blank except for a signature, with the implication that its bearer can write his own deal. A blank check, but also Blanket permission.
COUP DE GRACE(koo-de-GRAHS): Literally, stroke of mercy, the death blow, delivered to someone mortally wounded. By extension, any finishing or decisive act. Watch that word coup,it's a favourite word of the French, and it shows up again in coup d'etat, the sudden, and often violent, overthrow of a government, and coup de foudreliterally, ligthning bolt; figuratively, love at first sight.
ENFANT TERRIBLE (ahn-fahnt-teh-REE-bl): "Terrible child"; can refer to your standard issue brat or to anybody, typically a young artist or writer, who causes trouble and calls attention to himself through unconventional and boat rocking behaviour.
PIECE DE RESISTANCE (pee-ess-de-ray-zees-STAHNS): From the sense of "resistance" as staying in power, endurance. By extension, something of substance, toughness, or strength. Not, as a lot of people seem to think, the crowning glory, the "capper" in a can-you-top-this sequence of items. At the dinner table, it's the saddle of lamb -- not the cherries jubilee -- that is, or ought to be, the piece de resistance.
BELLES LETTRES (bell-LET-re): Serious literary writings --"beautiful letters"-- more "artistic" than "intelligence", especially essays and criticism, but including fiction, poetry, and drama. Today, tends to have connotations of the artificial, the effet, the old fashioned.
FIN DE SIECLE (fan-de-see-EH-kl): "End of century" specifically, the end of the 19th century, a period celebrated for its decadence in France.Not surprisingly, the phrase is now applied to the end of this century, too.
ROMAN A CLEF (ro-mahn-ah-KLAY): "Novel with key", in which people and events have been fictonalized, with any luck tantalizingly.
TOUR DE FORCE(toor-de-FORS): "Turn of Force", a display of virtuosity, an exhibition of skill, often undertaken by an author in a filed not his own just to prove he can do it.
AGENT PROVOCATEUR (ad-ZHEN-proh-voh-ka-TUHR): The undercover agent who infiltrates the trade union or political, pretending sympathy with its aims, and gets the members to do precisely those things that they can be punished or put away for.
CORDON SANITAIRE (kor-DOHN-san-ee-TAYR) The line, generally heavily guraded,between an infected area and a neighboring, as yet uninfected one. Applies likewise to the isolating of politically sensitive subject matter.
LESE-MAJESTE (lez-mah-shes-TAY): An offense or crime against one's rule or sovereign; treason. More commonly, any presumptous conduct or overstepping of authority. And that's the same les- you see in "lesion", ultimately from the a Latin word meaning to injure.
DOUBLE ENTENDRE (DOO-bl-ahn-TAHN-dr): Literally, to hear or to understand double; in practice, a remark with a racy, spicy, off-color undertone as well as a flat, seemingly innocent surface meaning. Actually, the French themselves say double entente, but that's their problem.
FAUTE DE MIEUX (FOHT-de-MEEUH): "For want of something better"; for lack of a workable alternative, ideal or guiding philosophy. "so much the metter", and for that matter", tant pis "so much the worse", expression of cynical resignation in the face of yet another new -- and questionable - development.
FORCE MAJEURE (fors-mah-ZHUR): Literally, "superior strenght". The irresistible force, totally out of your control, generally unexpected,and most important, serving to release you from your obligatiosn.Includes what Engliosh speaking insurance companies call "acts of God", as well as various forms of strictly human negligence and bad judgements.
AMOUR-PROPRE(ah-MOOR-PROH-pr) an old phrase --literally, "self-love" -- with an even range of meaning than the now-trendy narcissism, from simple self esteem, to a need for admiration by others, to out-and-out conceit , to neurotic slef improvement.
(Source: AN INCOMPLETE EDUCATION by: Judy Jones and William Wilson)
|posted by infraternam meam @ 8:16 AM