carte blanche

[ kahrt -blanch, blahnch; French kart -blahnsh ]
/ ˈkɑrt ˈblæntʃ, ˈblɑntʃ; French kart ˈblɑ̃ʃ /

noun, plural cartes blanches [kahrts -blanch, blahnch; French kart -blahnsh]. /ˈkɑrts ˈblæntʃ, ˈblɑntʃ; French kart ˈblɑ̃ʃ/.

unconditional authority; full discretionary power: It appears that the government has given the military carte blanche.She was given carte blanche to decorate her room as she wished, perhaps an unwise decision by her parents.
a sheet of paper that is blank except for a signature and given by the signer to another person to write in what he or she pleases.
Cards. a hand having no face card but with a special scoring value, as in piquet.

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Carte blanche entered the English language as a French loan word in the mid-17th century, when card games were all the rage, of course. But what does it mean now?

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Origin of carte blanche

First recorded in 1655–65 as blank, blanck , or blanche (without carte ) in the card game sense, in 1700–10 in the sense “blank, signed document,” and in 1760–70 in the sense “discretionary power”; from French: literally, “blank document”; see carte, blank

historical usage of carte blanche

Carte blanche (originally without “carte”) entered the English language as a French loanword in the mid-17th century, when card games were all the rage. A highly fashionable game of the time was piquet, in which a carte blanche was a hand having no face card.
By the 18th century, the meaning had expanded to include a blank piece of paper upon which someone signed his or her name, trusting a second party to come up with the stipulations of a deal. This idea of signing a yet unwritten contract and handing over authority to the other party led us to the sense most familiar to speakers of modern-day English. Nowadays, if someone has been given carte blanche, it means that the person is free to do or say whatever he or she pleases.
Note that it is a mistake to say “a carte blanche” unless you are talking about a piquet hand or a blank, signed contract. When used in the sense of giving someone free rein, you say the person has been given “carte blanche,” and not “a carte blanche.”
On the other hand, blank check, a term with very similar meanings, is always used with “a” or some other determiner. That term underwent the same progression as carte blanche from its literal meaning to a figurative one (as in Congress gave the president a blank check of unconditional support ). Unlike carte blanche, however, the literal meaning has not fallen out of use. We may rarely play piquet today, but we still occasionally write checks.

popular references for carte blanche


Carte Blanche: A painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte. It depicts a horse and rider, apparently walking through a forest, though closer inspection shows the forest visible through the horse and rider. The painting is meant as a meditation on art and its relationship to reality.
Carte Blanche: An album released by American hip-hop artist Phat Kat in the late 2000s.
Carte Blanche: The 37th novel in the James Bond franchise, written by Jeffery Deaver.

Quotations related to carte blanche

  • "I understand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided only that I get back the gems, and that you would place no limit on the sum I may draw. "
    -Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • "[T]his deal gave the developer carte blanche to wield power in a self-interested way. "
    -Steve France Dusty Doctrines ABA Journal (May 2001)
  • "It’s the kind of success which pretty much gives them carte blanche in terms of what they want to do next, although they’ve always done their own thing. "
    -Adam Lowes ‘Hornet’ Brings in the Green While True Grit Hangs in There HeyUGuys (January 18, 2011)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for carte blanche

British Dictionary definitions for carte blanche

carte blanche
/ (ˈkɑːt ˈblɑːntʃ, French kart blɑ̃ʃ) /

noun plural cartes blanches (ˈkɑːts ˈblɑːntʃ, French kart blɑ̃ʃ)

complete discretion or authoritythe government gave their negotiator carte blanche
cards a piquet hand containing no court cards: scoring ten points

Word Origin for carte blanche

C18: from French: blank paper
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for carte blanche

carte blanche
[ (kahrt blahnsh, kahrt blahnch) ]

To be given “carte blanche” is to receive the power and authority to do as one wishes: “The prime minister herself did not take any action on the refugee issue but gave her minister of the interior carte blanche to deal with the situation.” Carte blanche is French for “blank card,” meaning one that can be filled in as a person wishes.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.