enfant terrible


: a child whose inopportune remarks cause embarrassment
: a person known for shocking remarks or outrageous behavior
: a usually young and successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde

Did you know?

Enfant terrible, which literally means "terrifying child" in French, sounds like something that might be uttered by a frazzled babysitter. Indeed, when English speakers first borrowed the term in the mid-19th century, it was used in reference to children - specifically, unpredictable children who blurted out outrageous remarks that embarrassed their elders. By the 1930s, the term had a broader application: an enfant terrible could be anyone - young or old - whose behavior shocked others. Now the term is also often applied to young, successful newcomers who shock or scare old-timers with their new approaches, easy successes, or disregard for tradition.

Examples of enfant terrible in a Sentence

an author who reveled in his role as the enfant terrible of American letters
Recent Examples on the Web But the provocateur-in-chief is now too established to still be considered an enfant terrible. Patrick Frater, Variety, 3 July 2024 Of course, the enfant terrible himself also made a cameo on Place Vendôme to dress Aya Nakamura for her opening number yesterday. Hayley Maitland, Vogue, 24 June 2024 After poring over the 5,000-word piece, he was relieved by the omission: No good could come from being anointed a member of this A-list tribe of enfants terribles. Tatiana Siegel, Variety, 13 June 2024 Julius Malema, the enfant terrible of South African politics, vows that his enemies have nowhere to hide. Erin Conway-Smith, Foreign Affairs, 7 May 2019 See all Example Sentences for enfant terrible 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'enfant terrible.' 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, terrifying child

First Known Use

1851, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of enfant terrible was in 1851


Dictionary Entries Near enfant terrible

Cite this Entry

“Enfant terrible.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enfant%20terrible. Accessed 14 Jul. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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