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coup de grâce
An action or event that brings a swift end to suffering or a worsening situation. The phrase is French for "blow of mercy." The samurai delivered a merciful coup de grâce to his mortally wounded enemy. The large class action lawsuit was the coup de grâce that caused the failing company to finally go out of business.
crème de la crème
Of a person or a thing, the very best of a similar group or type. Literally translated from French as "cream of the cream." This car is the crème de la crème of luxury vehicles. Janet is the crème de la crème of photographers.
A circular street with only one opening for ingress or egress. I grew up on an idyllic cul-de-sac in the suburbs with many of my friends as neighbors. Aw man, this is a cul-de-sac and not a regular street? Guess I'm not cutting through to that neighborhood from here then.
A Latin phrase meaning "in fact" that is used to describe things that exist but are not formally or legally recognized. Megan may be the official head of the department, but Lisa is the de facto leader, as she is more involved in day-to-day tasks.
From Latin, meaning "trifling," a legal principle asserting that trivial matters are not worthy of judicial scrutiny. A shortening of the Latin maxim de minimis non curat lex, meaning "the law does not care about the smallest things." They want to drag our entire company to court because of a scratch on their car that they allege was caused by one of our machines. I implore the court to realize how insignificant this is and apply the de minimis doctrine.
de minimis non curat lex
From Latin, meaning "the law does not care about the smallest things," a legal principle asserting that trivial matters are not worthy of judicial scrutiny. They want to drag our entire company to court because of a scratch on their car that they allege was caused by one of our machines. I implore the court to acknowledge that this clearly falls under the doctrine of de minimis non curat lex.
Required in order to seem fashionable. Is it still de rigeur to wear a tuxedo to this event?
Unnecessary or superfluous. This French phrase means "too much." Having both a castle and pony rides is de trop for a one-year-old's birthday party, don't you think?
To delete a friend from one's network on a social media site. I can't believe he defriended me just because I disagreed with an article he posted.
droit de seigneur
In feudalism, a lord's right to have sexual intercourse with one of his serf's brides on their wedding night. This French phrase means the "right of the lord" in English. As the lord of the manor, I can exercise my droit de seigneur on her wedding night.
esprit de corps
The pride and loyalty that members of a group feel toward the group and its purpose. "Esprit" means "spirt" in French, while "corps" is French for "body" or "group." There's a very strong esprit de corps among the teachers at this school—they're very passionate about education and see each other as family.
fin de siècle
Occurring at the end of a century, especially the 19th century (when traditional values were in a state of upheaval). This French phrase means "end of century." A work like "The Importance of Being Earnest" can help us to better understand fin de siècle sensibilities.
get up the yard
An exclamation of disbelief, annoyance, disagreement, dismissal, etc., akin in meaning to "get out of here." An Irish expression seemingly unique to Dublin. Ah, here! Would you get up the yard! I'm not spending that much on a bleedin' computer.
informal Primarily heard in US.
1. A contraction of the greeting "How do you do?" Well hey, Bob, how-de-do? Been a long time since I've seen you around here!
2. A particularly bad, unpleasant, unfortunate, or unfair issue, outcome, or situation. (Often phrased as "a fine how-de-do.") Well, that's a fine how-de-do. I'm on the job for just two days, and I find out that the company is going bankrupt!
joie de vivre
Ebullient happiness and love of life. From French, literally meaning "joy of living." He isn't the most responsible person I've ever met, but his joie de vivre is positively infectious.
l'esprit de l'escalier
A French phrase meaning "the wit of the staircase," a perfect witty remark, retort, or rejoinder that occurs to one after the fact or too late to be used. (Also written as "l'esprit d'escalier.") I was on the bus home long after being tongue-lashed by my boss when I thought of the perfect things to say that would take him down a few pegs. Ah, l'esprit de l'escalier!
that's a fine how-de-do
1. Said of a particularly bad, unpleasant, unfortunate, or unfair issue, outcome, or situation. ("How-de-do" is a colloquial abbreviation of the phrase "how-do-you-do.") Well that's a fine how-de-do. I just got the car washed and waxed, and now it's covered in bird poop. They're canceling our project? That's a fine how-de-do after devoting nearly a year of our lives to it.
2. Said of some rude or offensive remark someone makes to someone else. A: "This pasta sauce is way too salty!" B: "Well, that's a fine how-de-do—I invite you into my house for dinner, and you do is insult my cooking!" He just published a scathing report criticizing nearly every aspect of our company. That's a fine how-de-do from someone we spent 10 years mentoring.
See also: fine
the pièce de résistance
1. The most outstanding, remarkable, or prized achievement, accomplishment, aspect, event, etc., in a given series or group. Mr. Reynolds has an impressive gallery, but I'm told that his latest sculpture will be the pièce de résistance.
2. The principal or featured dish in a meal; the entrée. And now for the pièce de résistance—paupiettes of black sole, served with asparagus spears and a rich consommé.
tour de force
An exceptionally masterful performance or achievement, especially in the arts. The director's latest movie is a tour de force of filmmaking. The Olympic gymnast's final routine was a tour de force that earned her a gold medal.
tout de suite
Immediately; at once; as quickly as possibly. Often given the coarse pronunciation "toot sweet" or incorrect spelling "tout suite" in English. I suggest you pay the bill tout de suite, or the bank will start charging you interest. As soon as we heard the police sirens, we got out of there tout de suite.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
cream of the crop, the
The best or choicest of anything, as in The apples from this orchard are definitely the cream of the crop. The noun cream has been used to mean "the best" since the 16th century. The French equivalent of the present term, la crème de la crème ("the cream of the cream") was familiar in English by 1800.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
the ˌcrème de la ˈcrème(from French, formal or humorous) the best people or things of their kind: This university takes only the crème de la crème of school leavers. ♢ Naturally, only the crème de la crème have been invited to the wedding.
ˌjoie de ˈvivre(from French, written) a feeling of great happiness and enjoyment of life: After the depressing events of the last few months, Mina felt that it was time to put a little joie de vivre back into their lives.
This French phrase means ‘joy of living’.
your/the ˌpièce de réˈsistance(from French) the most important or impressive part of a group or series of things: I hope you all enjoyed your main course. And now for my pièce de résistance: chocolate gateau!
a tour de ˈforce(from French) an extremely skilful performance or achievement: a literary/cinematic tour de force
This is a French phrase that means ‘an act of strength’.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
coup de grâce
Finishing stroke. The phrase is French for “blow of mercy,” a death blow administered to end a wounded person’s suffering. It probably originated in dueling or other sword fighting and had been adopted into English by about 1700 and was already being used figuratively for the finishing stroke for any kind of enterprise. For example, “He carefully placed the figures of bride and groom on top of the cake, the coup de grâce for an artistic creation.”
cream of the crop, the
The very best of all. Cream is, of course, the richest part of milk and rises to the top. It was transferred to mean the best of any collective entity by the seventeenth century. John Ray, for example, included “That’s the cream of the jest” in his collection of English proverbs (1678). The exact locution involving the best of the crop was no doubt adopted for its alliterative appeal. The French version, la crème de la crème, literally “the cream of the cream,” meaning the best of the best, was well known in English by 1800 or so and also is considered a cliché. It gained new impetus in Muriel Spark’s novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, first made into a play, then a motion picture (1969), in which the schoolteacher-heroine assures her students that they will, under her tutelage, become the crème de la crème.
esprit de corps
A sense of unity, pride, or common purpose among the members of a group. The term came directly from French into English in the late eighteenth century and often was misspelled, as by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park (“I honour your esprit du [sic] corps”). It continued to be used because, as Sir Frank Adcock put it, it describes “that typically English characteristic for which there is no English name” (1930). An American equivalent from the sports world is team spirit.
pièce de résistance
The most notable or most highly prized feature of a group or series; the star attraction. Originally, from the 1790s or so, this French term always referred to a meal’s greatest delicacy (an appropriate matter of concern to French palates). By the mid-nineteenth century the term had been transferred to other outstanding items, at least in English. Thackeray, in an essay (1840) about art, stated: “To supply the picture lover with the pièces de résistance of the feast.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
droit de seigneur
The supposed right of a nobleman to deflower the bride of any of his serfs on their wedding night. The phrase, which translates as “the lord's right” was also known as “the law / right of the first night.” Despite its widespread appearance in popular culture, reports of the “right” having been exercised are very rare. It was more a representation for or a warning about the power that a feudal lord could exert over his tenants. Mozart's opera, The Marriage of Figaro, involves Count Almaviva's efforts to exercise his right with Figaro's bride, Susanna. The phrase survives as a seldom-used metaphor for unlimited authority over another, such as a boss over an employee, notwithstanding the gender of either party.
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price