Trend Watch

NY Times: Comey's Testimony a 'J'accuse Moment'

A bitter denunciation

J'accuse became one of our top lookups on June 9th, 2017, after it was used in an unusual fashion by a writer for The New York Times, in reference to recent testimony given by James Comey, the former Director of the FBI.

While delivered in calm, deliberate and unemotional terms, Mr. Comey’s testimony on Thursday was almost certainly the most damning j’accuse moment by a senior law enforcement official against a president in a generation.
—Peter Baker, The New York Times, 8 Jun. 2017

J'accuse, which we define as "I accuse" (a literal translation from the French, but used here in English as a noun modifying another noun, moment) and "a bitter denunciation," is not often found in the attributive sense employed above, in which the noun functions as an adjective.

The use of j'accuse is one of the rare instances in which we have a clear idea of where and when a word entered our language. It is taken from the title of an open letter addressed to the President of France, Félix Faure, written by Émile Zola, and published in 1898 (it was not at the time referred to as "Faure's j'accuse moment"). The letter was written in defense of the French army officer Alfed Dreyfus, who was imprisoned for treason and later proved innocent.

It did not take long before the word was adopted from the French into English, and since 1899 we have been employing j'accuse as a description of accusation.

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