Wednesday, March 20, 2013


dernier [ˈdɜːnɪə(r)] a.

1.) Last; ultimate, final.
2.) dernier ressort: last resort; originally (in reference to legal jurisdiction) the last tribunal or court to which appeal can be made, that which has the power of final decision; hence, a last or final resource or refuge.
3.) dernier cri [French, literally 'the last cry']: the very latest fashion. Also in predicative use and (without article) attributively.
4.) dernier mot: the last word (Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition).

Etymology: adoption of French dernier, last, latest.

"The Right Honourable William Humble, earl of Dudley, G. C. V. O., passed Micky Anderson's alltimesticking watches and Henry and James's wax smartsuited freshcheeked models, the gentleman Henry, dernier cri James" (Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922).

(The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1839)

I'm pleased to report that this word finally allowed me to find a mistake by my hero David Foster Wallace. See, I originally discovered this word when I was rereading his essay "Up, Simba" the other month (and wrote it down in my trusty moleskin to save for later, as is my wont). He writes:
"One of the scrum's oldest and most elite 12M calls out one last time that surely after all there aren't any guns to the candidates' heads in this race, that surely Mike (the Monkeys call him Mike) would have to admit that simply refusing to 'quote, "respond"' to Bush and thereby 'staying on the high road' was something McCain could have done; and Murphy's dernier cri, over his shoulder, is 'You guys want a pacifist, go support Bradley.'"
But he should have written dernier mot, as anyone can see. Probably he was relying on his knowledge of French. But dernier cri doesn't mean last cry in English, it means latest fashion. So, once again, not knowing French turns out to be a better strategy in life.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Your final line gave me a good laugh. Yes, too much knowledge can get in the way!

Poke The Rock said...

"as anyone can see" yes, yes I can clearly see....well I surely wouldn't have spotted that before your post.

Evi @ sexta-feira said...

False friends can cause a lot of trouble sometimes.

A Beer For The Shower said...

"Dernier cri - something I will never need in my vocabulary," he said, wearing a Hanes t-shirt and those old sweat pants with a hole in the knee.

Bibi said...

Actually, you're not entirely right about the "dernier cri" thing. It does mean "last cry" in French, when you translate it literally. But it also means "latest fashion", as in English, when it's used figuratively. You don't think the English language just came up with that out of nowhere, did you?

... And that's how you can tell the difference between someone who knows French, and someone who "knows" French.

Ed @ Lexicolatry said...

-E- has had the dernier mot, the very best mot one can have ...

Bibi said...

RYC: I guess it probably still was my birthday where you live, so I'm not going to hit you for being late. But yes, you've been pretty shit. No doubt about that.

Post a Comment