po·​li·​tesse | \ ˌpä-li-ˈtes How to pronounce politesse (audio) , ˌpȯ- \

Definition of politesse

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Nowadays, no one refers to a "polite" looking glass or houses "polite" and in good repair, but polite (or polit or polyt, as it was spelled in Middle English) originally meant simply "polished" or "clean." By the early 1600s, polite was being used of polished and refined people, and politeness had been penned to name the shining quality of such people. Politesse (a French borrowing) debuted in the late 17th century. All three words stem from Latin polire, which means "to polish" (and which is, by way of the Anglo-French stem poliss-, an ancestor of the English polish). Today we tend to use politeness for everyday good manners and reserve politesse for more formal courtesies.

Examples of politesse in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The avatars onscreen were often just rectangles or blobs, and the concepts had to stay within the bounds of dinner-table politesse. Neima Jahromi, The New Yorker, 22 Sep. 2021 The politesse recommended by Attlee, Bevin, and others had gained the American Jews almost nothing. Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker, 2 Nov. 2020 But Peck is just as much the keeper of the flame of the precision postmodernists like William H. Gass, another Midwesterner who had a way with metaphor and a burning fury against politesse. Mark Athitakis, Washington Post, 6 Nov. 2019 With flattery and French politesse, President Emmanuel Macron delicately maneuvered around Trump, partly by playing to the President’s ego. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 27 Aug. 2019 The responses are eye-opening, but do not necessarily represent the gold standard of politesse. Ajc Homepage, ajc, 24 Nov. 2017 The Trump Administration has the right idea, even if the President’s words lack the usual diplomatic politesse. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 9 Aug. 2017 Apparently, the T & T squad didn’t want to burn some of that politesse and reciprocity with the Sounders. Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times, 27 Aug. 2017 Black demonstrators protesting the murder of teen-agers are met with tanks and riot gear; white demonstrators protesting the unpopularity of Nazi and Confederate ideology are met with politesse. Longreads, 15 Aug. 2017 See More

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

First Known Use of politesse

1683, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for politesse

French, from Middle French, cleanness, from Old Italian pulitezza, from pulito, past participle of pulire to polish, clean, from Latin polire

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The first known use of politesse was in 1683

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Cite this Entry

“Politesse.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politesse. Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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