Sunday, November 19, 2017
Grammar

Let’s Have a Tête-à-Tête About This French Phrase

The phrase ‘tête-à-tête’ actually has two very different meanings, but when you think about it, there’s a relationship between the two.

When the so-called “Queen of New York Gossip,” Liz Smith, passed away at age 94, the New York Times, in describing the columnist’s ability to gather information about celebrities, mentioned her having an occasional tête-à-tête with the likes of Madonna.

A tête-à-tête is a private conversation. At least, that’s one meaning for the French phrase. It might be easy to assume (if you didn’t learn French in school) that the word tête refers to face, as in a “face-to-face” conversation. It would be a good guess, but you’d be slightly off. The French translation is actually “head-to-head,” but the meaning is clearly the same.

The phrase suggests an intimate setting, though it need not be a “date” or a meeting between people who are in a romantic relationship.

Its first known use, according to Merriam-Webster, dates all the way back to 1696.

Its pronunciation is along the lines of “tate-ah-tate.” 

In terms of proper spelling, the phrase is styled with a circumflex over the first e in each tête and an acute accent over the connecting a. But it’s important to note that is often the case when a foreign word is “Americanized,” it’s often written without the French accent marks.

It can also be used as an adjective or adverb.

But remember I said there’s a second meaning for the phrase?

It can also refer to a rather rare piece of furniture, one that you’re not all that likely to find in most homes, even though there’s probably a good chance you’ve seen one somewhere: it’s the famous S-shaped sofa in which two people can sit side-by-side though facing opposite directions. Here are some examples of the sofa.

Occasionally, you might even see a three-seat version, but it’s more commonly known as a chaperone sofa.

Fortunately, you can have the private conversation on any type of furniture.

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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.