enfant terrible

noun
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 For Serre to obliquely reference Parisian fashion’s enfant terrible makes sense—even if her new print takes its name from aquatic life. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "Marine Serre’s Moon Bodysuit Gets a Nostalgic Makeover for Spring 2021," 29 Sep. 2020 Check in with the enduring enfant terrible of American fiction. Sophie Kemp, Vogue, "These Were Vogue’s 10 Most-Read Culture Stories of 2019," 30 Dec. 2019 Over a six-decade career, Mr. Kupfer would direct more than 200 opera productions and go from enfant terrible to elder statesman. Michael Cooper, BostonGlobe.com, "Harry Kupfer, director and ‘Opera King of Berlin,’ 84," 7 Jan. 2020 The initial encounter between Godard, the enfant terrible of the French New Wave who was about to make his 1960 breakthrough masterpiece Breathless, and the young and unknown Danish model-actress did not go smoothly. Jordan Mintzer, Billboard, "Anna Karina, Radiant Actress and Jean-Luc Godard Muse, Dies at 79," 15 Dec. 2019 Read on for a look back over the year’s cream of the crop… and its enfants terribles. Tyler Aquilina, EW.com, "The best and worst reviewed movies of 2019," 23 Dec. 2019 And yet this was no return to his early East Village enfant terrible days, when Chang punched hole after hole in the kitchen walls. Alex Bhattacharji, WSJ, "David Chang’s Culinary Universe Is Still Growing," 2 Nov. 2018 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

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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Last Updated

9 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Enfant terrible.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enfant%20terrible. Accessed 24 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for enfant terrible

enfant terrible

noun
How to pronounce enfant terrible (audio)

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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