In a word: Amour-propre

August 29, 2011

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

AMOUR-PROPRE

The French term (pronounced ah-MOOR PRO-pr) is usually translated into English as "self-respect" or "self-esteem," but we need to tease out a little more meaning than that. The literal translation of the French is "love of oneself," "love" + "own," and while loving oneself is plainly preferable to hating oneself, it's the sort of thing that can easily shade into vanity. Moreover, since we already have the terms "self-esteem" and "self-respect" in English, the importation of something French carries a tang of something a little more exotic, perhaps a little more excessive, perhaps — dare we say? — a little pretentious.

Add to that suspicion that the term is often found in texts next to "wounded," and there is a further indication that we may be encountering something a little inflated and vulnerable to puncturing.

Example: From a summary of the action of "The Rehearsal" by George Villiers: "The Stage-keeper says it will disappoint the afternoon audience, but the playwright stalks off, all wounded amour-propre."

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