What Does Bête Noire Mean?

Bête Noire Meaning

Definition: Something or someone dreaded.

A bête noire is avoided by others. It may be a thing that is particularly dreadful or annoying. It may also be a person who is bothersome and is avoided by others.

The phrase may be synonymously replaced with the phrase bane. One may complain about something, saying that it is the bane of his existence. Similarly, one may say something annoying is the bête noire of his existence.

This term comes from French, so it is commonly written with accent marks. Sometimes, however, English writers simply write bete noire without the accent, but since this is a loanword, it is generally considered a spelling error.

Origin of Bête Noire

meaning of Bête noireLiterally translated from French, this phrase means black beast. The phrase was common in French speaking and writing for a long time before being used in English.

One of the first recorded English uses of the phrase is in William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon. He wrote:

“…I found at length that the widow was growing dreadfully afraid of me; calling me her bete noire, her dark spirit, her murderous adorer, and a thousand other names indicative of her extreme disquietude and terror.”

Examples of Bête Noire

define Bête noireA bête noire may be anything from a one-time annoyance to something that disturbs you persistently over time.

An example of a bête noire that affects you once is a rainstorm that prevents you from arriving home on time.

An example of a long-term bête noire is a lock on your door that consistently gets stuck and must be fixed repeatedly, much to your annoyance.

Even a person may be a bête noire. If you dread seeing a particular person and actively avoid him or her, that person is your bête noire!

More Examples

  • Nastase was the press’s bete noire in the Saturday morning papers… –New York Magazine
  • …acting publisher is Charles Price, himself late of Baker & Hostetler, who joined management after representing the SunTimes in the ’85 Guild negotiations; chief operating officer is Page’s bete noire, Donald Piazza, an accountant. –Chicago Reader

Summary

A bête noire is something or someone you avoid and dislike.