po·​li·​tesse ˌpä-li-ˈtes How to pronounce politesse (audio)

Did you know?

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 In 1948, Vogue published its 658-page Book of Etiquette, compiled by editor Millicent Fenwick, featuring how-tos, dos and don’ts, and the proper politesse for a remarkably varied set of scenarios. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, 6 Feb. 2024 Earlier, the girls had waved off a proffered map with the icy politesse of a Tour de France winner declining training wheels. Judith Stone, Discover Magazine, 11 Nov. 2019 In her interview, Welker seemed fed on the American tradition of treating every politician, even those complicit in an attempt to overturn the democratic tradition, with the utmost in politesse. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 18 Sep. 2023 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

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'politesse.' 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, from Middle French, cleanness, from Old Italian pulitezza, from pulito, past participle of pulire to polish, clean, from Latin polire

First Known Use

1683, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of politesse was in 1683


Dictionary Entries Near politesse

Cite this Entry

“Politesse.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politesse. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on politesse

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!