Challenging Word of the Week: Bête noire

bête noire
(bet nuh WAHR) n., adj.

This is a French expression (literally, black beast) taken into English to describe anything that is a pet aversion, a bugbear, a thorn in one’s side. A bête noire can be a person, an object, a chore, anyone or anything that one simply can’t stand. To a child, spinach can be a bête noire. The caption under a Carl Rose cartoon in the December 8, 1928, issue of The New Yorker (mother and child) reads:

“It’s broccoli, dear.”
“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

To some, Wagner may be a bête noire; to others, hard rock may qualify. Contemporary painting is a bête noire to countless thousands, nay, millions. Choose your own: ballet, corned beef and cabbage, Liberace, politicians, wine connoisseurs; long airplane trips, missiles, New Year’s Eve parties, children in TV commercials, all TV commercials, books about words…

This selection is taken from the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House.

I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it.

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