• bon vivant •
Pronunciation: boN vi-vawN • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Someone who enjoys the good life in luxury and elegance, someone with epicurean tastes in food, drink, and entertainment.
Notes: George Herbert (1593-1633), the clergyman and poet, once wrote, "Living well is the best revenge." If that is true, the bon vivant is someone who enjoys life with a vengeance; indeed, bon vivant is French for "living well" (see Word History). The plural is bons vivants or bon vivants, pronounced the same as the singular either way. This is one of a series of phrases borrowed from French containing bon "good, well". Others include bon voyage "good voyage, fare well", bon appétit "good appetite", bon mot "good word = witticism" (as our Good Words try to be).
In Play: Bon vivants are known for living the good life, usually among the 'beautiful people': "Herb Vinaigrette is a bon vivant who dines and dances his life (and his mother's money) away with great vigor, pleasure, and finesse." The successful bon vivant then, as you can see, needs not only highly developed tastes in wine and cuisine, but also the wherewithal to acquire them: "Perry Moore thinks himself a debonair bon vivant but he dines a lot by himself at McDonald's."
Word History: Bon vivant in French means "good living" or "one who lives well". Bon is the French revision of Latin bonus "good", which we find in many words other than English bonus: bonny, boon, and bonanza are based on this root, as is bonbon, the chocolate coated goody. The English word debonair also originated as an Old French phrase, de bon aire "of good family or disposition". The root of Latin bonus, bon-, is an ablaut form, which means that it has a variant, ben-. This alternative form is also found in multiple English words referring to goodness, including benefit, benediction, benign, and benefactor. (Today's Good Word comes to us courtesy of James Stemwedel, a lexical bon vivant with excellent taste in words.)