Enfant terrible  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
  1. An unconventional badly-behaved person who causes embarrassment or shock to others.

L'Enfant terrible (Terrible child) (also spelled enfant terrible) is a French term for a child who is terrifyingly candid by saying embarrassing things to adults, especially parents. The Webster's Dictionary also defines a L'Enfant terrible as a usually successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde.

Origin of term

Its use was coined by Thomas Jefferson to describe Pierre Charles L'Enfant, Architect of Washington, who was a handsome, idealistic, and very headstrong French military engineer. L'Enfant had difficulties dealing with the map engravers and then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Washington City Commissioner Daniel Carroll especially after L'Enfant had Carroll's new house, still under construction, torn down to build a street. L'Enfant was fired after only eleven months by Jefferson.


In Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (part three, chapter XVII), Princess Betsy Tverskaya uses this phrase to describe Liza Merkalova and Anna Karenina in the context of discussing their actions as unfaithful wives. Princess Betsy points out the dichotomy of the virtue of those two women. On the one hand, Anna Karenina is poignantly aware of the repulsiveness of her "position", and all of the lying and deception that it entails. Anna, according to Princess Betsy, sees her situation "tragically" and turns it "into a misery". Conversely, Liza Merkalova is a "naive nature", handling the situation as one unaware of the difference between right and wrong, looking at her situation "simply and even humorously".

Les Enfants Terribles' is also a novel of classic French literature, written by Jean Cocteau

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