L'enfant terrible

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 an enfant terrible as an unusually successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, and/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 eleven months by Jefferson, an upstart in his own right.


In Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877), (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.

Video Games

In the Metal Gear Solid series, the Les Enfants Terribles Project is the name of a project to make three clones of Big Boss; Solid Snake, with all dominant genes; Liquid Snake, with all recessive genes; and Solidus Snake, a perfect genetic clone.

Search another word or see enfant-terribleon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature