belle epoque


variants or belle époque
often capitalized B&E
: a period of high artistic or cultural development
especially : such a period in fin de siècle France

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In the years before World War I, France experienced a period of economic growth that produced a wealth of artistic and cultural developments. That era has been described as excessive, glittering, gaudy, and extravagant, but the tumultuous days of war that followed it inspired the French to call that productive period la belle époque—literally, "the beautiful age." The term belle epoque soon found its way into English, where it came to be used to refer not only to the glory days of late 19th-century France, but to any similarly luxurious period. It is now used to more elegantly convey the sentiments of another nostalgic expression, "the good old days."

Example Sentences

that 19th-century belle epoque when Paris seemed to be the artistic center of the universe
Recent Examples on the Web His death, from pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess, was perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the belle epoque, an age of gentility, civility and artistic achievement that had mostly ended with the outbreak of World War I. Charles Arrowsmith, Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2022 Horowitz deepens the allure of this true-crime page-turner by contextualizing how sexuality was used by and against women in belle epoque Paris, and how far police went to protect elites. Becky Meloan, Washington Post, 30 Aug. 2022 The opulent luxury of first class that now feels rather like a belle epoque for aviation is being replaced by a more understated desire, Kopola explains. John Walton, CNN, 4 Oct. 2021 The most elegant bridge in Paris Then comes the most elegant of Paris bridges: the Pont Alexandre III, a belle epoque confection linking the Invalides to the Champs-Élysées. Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, 4 Nov. 2019 By the belle epoque era, however, tastes veered upscale and bouillons faded or transformed entirely, their charming interiors left untouched while their menus became decidedly upscale. Lindsey Tramuta, New York Times, 16 June 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'belle epoque.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French, literally, beautiful age

First Known Use

1904, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of belle epoque was in 1904


Dictionary Entries Near belle epoque

Cite this Entry

“Belle epoque.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

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