Le chef a donné le coup de grâce au projet.

Le chef a donné le coup de grâce au projet.

luh SHEFF ah dun-NAY luh koo duh GRAHSS oh proh-ZHAY.

The boss gave the finishing blow to the project.

Maybe it was the budget, or the economy, or a lack of talent to see the project through. Whatever the cause, the boss has killed it off.

But the thing is, the project was probably already dead. All the boss really did was sign off on it, remove the budget line. You see, le coup de grâce is the “mercy blow”, which doesn’t actually kill the prisoner (or the project), but ensures that he (or it) is good and truly dead after the execution, and not dying a slow and agonizing death.

Now here’s the fun part: many English-speakers mispronounce this phrase. They say le coup de gras, luh koo duh GRAH, which means something altogether different. You see, le gras means fat, like the white stuff on the edge of your steak. How to remember the correct pronunciation?

Picture this: the chef is chasing around the kitchen wielding a slab of bacon, beating the sous-chef over the head with it. That’s le coup de gras: a blow with some fat. (If someone wants to draw this for me, I’ll publish it, with credit, on this post.) If a person is putting an end to something, that’s le coup de grâce. That ssss that you hear at the end is the expiring breath of the project. May it rest in peace.

Something else to think about: Notice that le chef doesn’t always refer to kitchen personnel. Actually, chef is the Old French word (from around 1100 – 1400 or so) for head, as in part of your body. So le chef cuisinier (luh sheff kwee-zee-neeYAY) is the head cook, and le chef is the boss of whatever.

If you go to church, you know that mercy and grace are closely related. In Old French, merci did mean mercy. But languages change, and over the years, merci in French came to mean thank you. La grâce, on the other hand, means both mercy and grace. And just to confuse things a wee bit more: do you say grace before eating?

Thus have we gone from execution by firing squad to a mini-theology lesson!


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