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Panache is a word of French origin that carries the connotation of a flamboyant manner and reckless courage.

The literal meaning of the word is a plume, such as is worn on a hat or a helmet, but the reference is to King Henri IV of France. Pleasure-loving and cynical, but a brave military leader and the best-loved of the kings of France, he was famed for wearing a striking white plume in his helmet and for his war cry: "Follow my white plume!" (Fr. "Ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc").

Cyrano de Bergerac

The epitome of panache and the reason for its establishment as a virtue are found in Rostand's depiction of Cyrano de Bergerac, in his play of that name. (Prior to Rostand, panache was not necessarily a good thing, and was seen by some as a suspect quality).

Panache is referred to explicitly at two points in the play, but is implicit throughout: For example, Cyrano's challenges to Montfleury, Valvert, and at one point, the whole audience, at the theatre (Act I) and his nonchalant surrender of a month's salary to pay for the damages; his duel with a hundred footpads at the Porte de Nesle,(Act II) and his dismissal of the exploit when talking to Roxanne ("I've been much braver since then"); his crossing the Spanish lines daily to deliver Roxanne's letters (Act IV); and his leaving his death-bed in order to keep his appointment with her in Act V. The explicit references bring in the double meaning: First, in Act IV, when sparring with De Guiche over the loss of his (de Guiche's) white sash; " I hardly think King Henry would have doffed his white panache in any danger" : and finally, Cyrano's last words " ... yet there is something still that will always be mine, and when I go to God's presence, there I'll doff it and sweep the heavenly pavement with a gesture — something I'll take unstained out of this world ... my panache ".

Current use

Panache is now used to describe someone who has a dashing confidence of style, or shows a certain flamboyance and courage, and is a familiar word now in English. Its meaning has also been extended to include anything capable of displaying such attributes.

References

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

WOTD - 16 February 2008    
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Contents

English

A helmet with panache (1)

Etymology

From Middle French pennache (plume of feathers) < Italian pennaccio < Latin pinnaculum.

Pronunciation

Noun

Singular
panache

Plural
countable and uncountable; plural panaches

panache (countable and uncountable; plural panaches)

  1. (countable) An ornamental plume on a helmet.
  2. (uncountable) Flamboyant, energetic style or action; dash; verve.
    • 1894Kate Chopin, Bayou Folk, At the 'Cadian Ball
      One old gentleman, who was in the habit of reading a Paris newspaper and knew things, chuckled gleefully to everybody that Alcée’s conduct was altogether chic, mais chic. That he had more panache than Boulanger. Well, perhaps he had.

Synonyms

Translations


Italian

Etymology

French

Noun

panache m. inv.

  1. panache

Synonyms


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