enfant terrible

en·​fant ter·​ri·​ble | \ äⁿ-fäⁿ-te-ˈrēblᵊ How to pronounce enfant terrible (audio) \
plural enfants terribles\ äⁿ-​fäⁿ-​te-​ˈrēblᵊ How to pronounce enfants terribles (audio) \

Definition of enfant terrible

1a : a child whose inopportune remarks cause embarrassment
b : a person known for shocking remarks or outrageous behavior
2 : a usually young and successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde

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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

Kim's socializing with the NBA's enfant terrible Dennis Rodman also has set him up for ridicule. Krys Lee, Dallas News, "Book peers inside the hidden life of N. Korea's Kim Jong Un," 18 June 2019 Kim’s socializing with the NBA’s enfant terrible Dennis Rodman also has set him up for ridicule. Washington Post, "Inside the hidden life of Kim Jong Un," 14 June 2019 Dalle has long been the enfant terrible of French cinema, as well as one if its most chic representatives at worldwide film festivals. Vogue, "At 54, Beatrice Dalle Is France’s Biggest Red Carpet Rebel," 20 May 2019 Likewise, David Chang, who has transitioned from the food world’s enfant terrible to one of its elder statesmen, is openly addressing the mental and physical pressures of his industry. Kristina O’neill, WSJ, "WSJ. Magazine Editor’s Letter: Taking Flight," 8 Nov. 2018 Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical industry's enfant terrible, was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison, putting an end to a saga that captivated and sometimes enraged Washington, Wall Street and the tabloids. Bloomberg, latimes.com, "Martin Shkreli sentenced to seven years in prison," 9 Mar. 2018 Aficianados of extremist journalism will recognize the name of Hahn, the whose wild and incredibly lengthy tirades on immigration issues at Breitbart made her an enfant terrible nearly as prominent as Miller himself. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump’s Immigration Chaos: Incompetence or Deliberate Trolling?," 27 June 2018 Sometime in the mid-1940s, Hollywood enfant terrible Orson Welles discovered an old cabin while exploring the Big Sur coast with his pal, the actor Joseph Cotten. Wallace Baine, San Francisco Chronicle, "Why did Old Hollywood celebs love Big Sur so much?," 31 May 2018 In 2007, Prefontaine moved to Seattle to create Slayer Espresso, the all-American enfant terrible of the coffee world, known for its big-impact designs and even bigger-impact price tags. Todd Plummer, Vogue, "What Do You Get From a $35,000 Espresso Machine?," 29 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'enfant terrible.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of enfant terrible

1851, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for enfant terrible

French, literally, terrifying child

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The first known use of enfant terrible was in 1851

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enfant terrible


English Language Learners Definition of enfant terrible

formal : a young and successful person who is sometimes shocking and does things in a way that is very different from normal

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What made you want to look up enfant terrible? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


involving a confidence or trust

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