Bon mot

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Dr. Goodword
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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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LukeJavan8
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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.
Iain

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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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