Bon mot

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Bon mot

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Jul 06, 2018 11:13 pm

• bon mot •


Pronunciation: bahn-mo Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A witticism, a clever or witty turn of phrase.

Notes: The plural of today's word is bon mots, pronounced [bahn-moz]. A bon mot is a particularly well-turned phrase, distinguished more by wittiness than by profundity, such as Adlai Stevenson's famous line, "A politician is a man who approaches every question with an open mouth", or Lyndon Johnson's characterization of a senatorial colleague as someone who could not chew gum and walk at the same time. Apothegms and maxims are more purposeful philosophical opinions, such as Lord Acton's famous apothegm, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely", or Charlemagne's profound maxim, "To know another language is to have a second soul."

In Play: People who craft bon mots are always a pleasure: "Sam Westgate fights the anfractuosities of the federal bureaucracy with a quiver of finely crafted bon mots", implies that Dr. Westgate loves the cleverly turned phrase. He might even use this one, again by the past master, Adlai Stevenson: "In America any boy may become president; I suppose that's the risk he takes."

Word History: Today's word is a French expression meaning "good word" or "good saying", based on bon the remainder Latin bonus in France. The direct English translation of this French phrase is also idiomatic in a different sense. We say, "Put in a good word for me." The title of this series is, "So, what's the good word?" The Italian version of mot is motto, and a motto is a bon mot of sorts. Both words come from late Latin mottum, from muttire "to murmur, utter". Latin bonus "good" derives from an original dhe-/dho- plus the suffix -en, also the source of bene "well", found in English borrowings such as benefit, benediction, and benign. Initial [dh] did not convert to [b] in Greek and so appears with the same -en suffix in Greek dynasteuo "I rule, I oppress", found in the English borrowings dynamic, dynasty, and dynamite.
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Re: Bon mot

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sat Jul 07, 2018 12:07 pm

Bon Mot, is a Canadian TV production studio, seen on Disney
and shown at the end of many of Disney's shows.
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

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Re: Bon mot

Postby Audiendus » Sat Jul 07, 2018 9:23 pm

Dr. Goodword wrote:Notes: The plural of today's word is bon mots

Most English dictionaries give only the French spelling for the (English) plural, i.e. bons mots. Those that give both spellings put bons mots first. That is the spelling I would use.

The same applies to bons vivants (not bon(s) viveurs, which is pseudo-French).

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Re: Bon mot

Postby David Myer » Mon Jul 09, 2018 3:07 am

Yes, the expression is fully French. It has not been anglicised in any way. So in my view the French plural should be used. But why on earth are we using a French word/expression when there is a perfectly satisfactory and well-established English (Greek) one? Epigram is surely an exact synonym?

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Re: Bon mot

Postby George Kovac » Mon Jul 09, 2018 10:52 am

David Myer wrote:
But why on earth are we using a French word/expression when there is a perfectly satisfactory and well-established English (Greek) one? Epigram is surely an exact synonym?

I agree the two words may be synonyms. But that does not end the conversation. There is nuance among synonyms, as well as a sense of style and context that justifies keeping both words—and knowing when to deploy which.

There is a well-known quote from Nietzsche usually translated as “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.” I have also seen the sentence translated as “A witticism is an epigram on the death of a feeling.” “Joke” and “witticism” are synonyms, but I find the first translation immensely more satisfying. In addition, I think Nietzsche’s observation would be ruined if rendered as “A joke is a bon mot on the death of a feeling.”

Here is an example in which substituting “epigram” for “bon mot” would have caused the writer’s observation to crash with a thud: “The charming and archly witty Love & Friendship (imagine Downton Abbey with just Maggie Smith) is a reminder, among other things, of Kate Beckinsale's way with a corset and a bon mot.” Mary Kaye Schilling, Town & Country, "Whit Stillman On Directing Jane Austen," 27 Apr. 2016

IMHO, sometimes “bon mot” is the mot juste.
“The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words.” Colum McCann “But Always Meeting Ourselves” New York Times, June 15, 2009

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Re: Bon mot

Postby call_copse » Tue Jul 10, 2018 6:35 am

George Kovac wrote:
David Myer wrote:
But why on earth are we using a French word/expression when there is a perfectly satisfactory and well-established English (Greek) one? Epigram is surely an exact synonym?

I agree the two words may be synonyms. But that does not end the conversation. There is nuance among synonyms, as well as a sense of style and context that justifies keeping both words—and knowing when to deploy which.

There is a well-known quote from Nietzsche usually translated as “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.” I have also seen the sentence translated as “A witticism is an epigram on the death of a feeling.” “Joke” and “witticism” are synonyms, but I find the first translation immensely more satisfying. In addition, I think Nietzsche’s observation would be ruined if rendered as “A joke is a bon mot on the death of a feeling.”

Here is an example in which substituting “epigram” for “bon mot” would have caused the writer’s observation to crash with a thud: “The charming and archly witty Love & Friendship (imagine Downton Abbey with just Maggie Smith) is a reminder, among other things, of Kate Beckinsale's way with a corset and a bon mot.” Mary Kaye Schilling, Town & Country, "Whit Stillman On Directing Jane Austen," 27 Apr. 2016

IMHO, sometimes “bon mot” is the mot juste.


Well said sir.
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Re: Bon mot

Postby Dr. Goodword » Tue Jul 10, 2018 11:58 am

Most English dictionaries give only the French spelling for the (English) plural, i.e. bons mots.


Quite true. I felt the "Notes" were getting a bit long, so omitted the French option hoping no one would notice. I am well called to task on that decision.

I've revised the Notes to correct the omission in the GW Dictionary. I didn't change it here so that this discussion would not lose its cogency.
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Re: Bon mot

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:11 am

I have to share this one with yall. George Kovac caught a delightful interchange between two commentators of the Trump presence at the NATO meeting:
I heard a delightful epigram—more of a bon mot, actually—this morning on CNN. The commentator showed a clip of the various NATO leaders sitting for a meal at which Trump insulted Germany even before any food had been served. The commentator said “Trump came out swinging even before the amuse-bouche.” The commentator’s co-host said “It was more like an am-bush.”
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Re: Bon mot

Postby LukeJavan8 » Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:03 pm

:lol:
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Re: Bon mot

Postby David Myer » Sun Aug 05, 2018 3:40 am

Excellent points on the distinction between bon mot and epigram. Thank you, George particularly.

Perhaps a bon mot is a nice throw-away line and then thrown away where an epigram persists - even on its way towards becoming a proverb?

But I still dislike using foreign words that have not yet been anglicised; there's something vaguely excluding and slightly snobbish about it: we are better educated and in the knowing club where if you don't know what it means (or how to pronounce it) you just haven't been educated properly. Certainly I avoid it in my communications work.

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Re: Bon mot

Postby George Kovac » Mon Aug 06, 2018 11:01 am

Points well taken David, especially when it comes to borrowed French words.

Often use of the French is a pretention used to call attention to the alleged sophistication of the speaker. It is the linguistic equivalent of name-dropping. If two words get the job done, use the demotic unless there is a good reason to make a hifalutin reference. In my example, the Jane Austen context justified “bon mot.”

Sometimes there is no good English word. For example, the Russian term “kompromat,” a word I never heard of two years ago, is now commonplace in journalism because (thankfully) there was no equivalent in American English.

But, David, your point is especially apt about French, which occupies a unique cultural position among English speakers. Words from languages other than French tend to be anglicized more eagerly. For centuries, France has insisted that it is culturally superior to other Western societies and many of us subliminally accept that condescending premise. Thus many French words and phrases remain un-anglicized because to do so risks losing the cachet (pardon my French) of the original. Many an ordinary beauty product is marketed under French sounding names—or a cosmetic or apparel company will add the word “Paris” under the brand name to imply the product has French origins (or provenance?).

Among English speakers, distinctions are established not just by vocabulary but also by accent. Sometimes the pitchman’s (or pitchwoman's) voice in an American television commercial will have a British accent (often comically exaggerated) to associate the product with the taste, quality and costliness associated with the British upper class among Americans whose knowledge of Britain derives mainly from watching Downton Abbey and royal weddings. Britishness is equated with snobbery, and snobbery adds value, or at least raises the price of products ranging from shampoo to sedans. On the other hand, highly suspect (I daren’t say “faux”) Australian accents are favored to promote products appealing to friendliness, common sense, value, trustworthiness, accessibility and lack of pretension as attested by the commercials for Outback Steakhouse, GEICO insurance and various household cleaning products and kitchen equipment. That association explains why Australian singers have succeeded in American “country” music, but no Brits have. In popular American imagination, Aussies epitomize a certain kind of ... help me here David ... what is the Australian word for “bon homie”?

Au revoir.
“The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words.” Colum McCann “But Always Meeting Ourselves” New York Times, June 15, 2009

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Re: Bon mot

Postby David Myer » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:00 pm

Excellent stuff, George.

I don't know about a single word for the Australian style - books have been written trying to define it. But Larrikinism is often used - a sort of good-natured ebullience that fails to respect the 'system' and its authority.

Certainly as a communications person, I did a job for BP which involved communicating a major IT systems change in Australia and New Zealand. We rolled out the change to Malaysia and Singapore too. In Australia, the key message is why we are implementing it. "OK, fair enough; what do we have to do?" is the response. In Malaysia, they didn't want to know why. "Just tell us what we have to do". But there is no way you get co-operation in Australia if the troops don't understand why - particularly if the reason is obscure.

Yes, I take your point on use of French in particular. Perhaps the snobbery goes all the way back to the Norman invasion of England in 1066? I understand that French remained the language used at court for four hundred years.

This from the redoubtable Wikipedia:

"Language of the king and his court
From the conquest (1066) until the end of the 14th century, French was the language of the king and his court. During this period, marriages with French princesses reinforced the French status in the royal family. Nevertheless, during the 13th century, intermarriages with English nobility became more frequent. French became progressively a second language among the upper classes. Moreover, with the Hundred Years' War and the growing spirit of English nationalism, the status of French diminished.

French was the mother tongue of every English king from William the Conqueror (1066-1087) until Henry IV (1399–1413). Henry IV was the first to take the oath in English, and his son, Henry V (1413–1422), was the first to write in English. By the end of the 15th century, French became the second language of a cultivated elite.[8]"

No wonder it is still considered by social climbers to be a demonstration of class. I remember embarrassingly, my grandmother in a restaurant in London saying very loudly having perused the menu: "Hmph! Not much of a choix, is there?"

On your Australian note, I am much amused to hear that voice-overs on American TV commercials use Australian accents. You mention the association with lack of pretension. As I reflect on all this, I ask myself what it is about Australia that appeals to me (I was born and brought up in England). And I think that ultimately it is the lack of pretension here (compared with UK) that makes me feel comfortable here. Yes, common sense, openness, and no airs. Sadly of course as the wealth divide gets bigger, this sort of pretension is creeping in. It has always been evident in restaurants here, but as culinary skills have improved we are now more self-confident and less pretentious at the top level. We are proud of our 'Australian cuisine' and don't need to write our menus in French.

Anyway, this is an interesting discussion. Thanks for your central part in it!

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Re: Bon mot

Postby David Myer » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:14 pm

A further reflection on 'bonhomie'.

I note that the Google dictionary offers scores of synonyms but of course none of them has the same nuance. 'Geniality' - yeah, but...
Conviviality, possibly. But bonhomie is a rather refined pleasant spirit, and that is not conveyed in any of the suggested synonyms.

Gemutlich is perhaps closer in meaning although of course with a slightly rowdy German style. Craic is the Irish/Scottish equivalent but again with its own way of having a good time - probably including some drunken dancing.

We do need an Australian word to explain the spirit of our parties. I will work on it.

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Re: Bon mot

Postby George Kovac » Fri Aug 10, 2018 12:16 pm

David Myer wrote:
... my grandmother in a restaurant in London saying very loudly having perused the menu: "Hmph! Not much of a choix, is there?"


David,

Have you considered that perhaps your grandmother was commenting not on the menu, but on the waiter's pronunciation: "Hmph! Not much of a schwa, is there?"
“The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words.” Colum McCann “But Always Meeting Ourselves” New York Times, June 15, 2009

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Re: Bon mot

Postby David Myer » Mon Aug 20, 2018 1:50 am

Perhaps, George. But as I recall she was not a lady of good humour.

Thinking further on the Australian equivalent to bonhommie but with a special Australian-ness, perhaps the word larrikin could be adapted. So maybe if the person who behaves in that way is a larrikin, the way he behaves might be having a larriking (good) time.

So to larrick might be to skylark in that particular Aussie way?


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