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May 30, 2011 Word of the Day

  • enfant terrible
  • ahn-fahn-teh-REE-bluh


a : a child whose inopportune remarks cause embarrassment b : a person known for shocking remarks or outrageous behavior
: a usually young and successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde

John McEnroe's on-court temper tantrums earned him a reputation as the enfant terrible of tennis in the early 1980s.

"Considering the horrors that some authors get put through with film adaptations of their work, literary enfant terrible Bret Easton Ellis has been fairly lucky." -- From an article posted May 16, 2011 on The Playlist blog at


"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.