French Word of the Week: “Méprise”

French Word of the Week: “Méprise”

A useful word to know and, according to Seneca, one that can give you the key to your personal freedom, not by applying la méprise yourself but by letting others get away with it.More precisely, Seneca is quoted as saying “Si tu veux être heureux – Etre un homme libre – Laisse les autres te mépriser.” (if you wish to be happy – be a free man, let others scorn you).

In the traditional sense, méprise means to look down on, to despise, to scorn.

Je le méprise d’être si lâche (I despise him for being such a coward)
Elle méprise l’argent   (she thinks nothing  of money).

An expert “mépriseuse” was allegedly Sarah Bernhardt. When asked by Oscar Wilde “Do you mind if I smoke” her reply was a curt, “I don’t care if you burn.” In order to really qualify as veritable méprise, the scorn has to be delivered with a certain flair, as when Mephistopheles says in Goethe’s Faust:  “Méprise bien la raison et la science, et tu seras à moi, entièrement à moi”.‘ Despise reason and science, and you are mine, all mine’.

It can also be used to express a blatant disregard for convention.

Il méprise également les formes élémentaires de la politesse diplomatique (He also repudiates the basic forms of diplomatic politeness).

And it’s otherwise a mistake or misapprehension. The root of the word méprise comes from “prendre” or take, and it could be translated as “taken the wrong way”.

Engageons un dialogue sans méprise. Let us speak with each other, unburdened by misconceptions.

Do you enjoy learning French? Did you know that learning a second language keeps your brain young?

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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  • Jean Brookes
    2014-01-09 08:14:33
    Jean Brookes
    Thank you for another interesting post - just enough to read each time in a busy world.


    • Sylvia Edwards Davis, Property & Living Editor
      2014-01-09 08:49:01
      Sylvia Edwards Davis, Property & Living Editor
      Thank you for your kind comment Jean! I'm so glad you enjoy reading the blog.