coup de grâce

[ kooduh -grahs ]
/ kudə ˈgrɑs /

noun, plural coups de grâce [kooduh -grahs]. /kudə ˈgrɑs/. French.

a death blow, especially one delivered mercifully to end suffering.
any finishing or decisive stroke.

QUIZZES

BEAT THE DOLDRUMS WITH THIS WORD OF THE DAY QUIZ!

We know you’ll tackle this quiz totis viribus! See how many words from the week of Oct 12–18, 2020 you get right!
Question 1 of 7
What does “Indigenous” mean?

Origin of coup de grâce

Literally, “blow of mercy”
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does coup de grâce mean?

A coup de grâce is the final, decisive blow or strike—the deathblow or the knockout punch. It especially refers to one that’s considered merciful for putting someone out of their misery.

Coup de grâce comes from French and literally means “stroke of mercy,” in which stroke refers to a physical blow, especially from a weapon. It can be used literally (and was formerly used in reference to executions). But it’s more often used figuratively to refer to an action that decisively brings something to an end, such as in sports when a team or player gets far enough ahead in scoring that the opponent can’t possibly come back to win.

Coup de grâce is pronounced [ kooduh grahs ]. The proper plural form is coups de grâce. 

Example: That touchdown is certainly the coup de grâce that will knock the defending champions out of these playoffs.

Where does coup de grâce come from?

The first records of the use of coup de grâce in English come from right around 1700. It’s borrowed directly from French, in which grâce means “mercy” and coup means “blow.” The word coup also appears in other English terms borrowed from French, including coup d’état, which literally means “stroke of state” and refers to a swift government takeover.

In its literal sense, coup de grâce quite gruesomely refers to an action taken to kill a person who is on the brink of death, such as someone who has been shot by a firing squad but is not yet dead. Such a blow was labeled merciful because it was done to end the person’s suffering.

Today, the term is often used figuratively for situations in which someone is “put out of their misery” with a final strike. It’s especially used in sports when an opponent is “finished off.” But it can be used in many other situations. The act of firing an employee might be called the coup de grâce if it has come after a long period of rules violations or other unprofessional behavior. The term is also often used in the context of politics. In a debate, when one debater has already clearly outdone the other, a final, decisive argument or statement could be called the coup de grâce.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to coup de grâce?

  • coups de grâce (plural)

What are some synonyms for coup de grâce?

What are some words that share a root or word element with coup de grâce

What are some words that often get used in discussing coup de grâce?

How is coup de grâce used in real life?

Coup de grâce is most often used in a figurative way to describe the final action that definitively settles or ends something once and for all.

 

 

Try using coup de grâce!

Is coup de grâce used correctly in the following sentence?

According to new reports, there has been a coup de grâce in the capital resulting in a military takeover of the government.

Example sentences from the Web for coup de grâce

British Dictionary definitions for coup de grâce

coup de grâce
/ French (ku də ɡrɑs) /

noun plural coups de grâce (ku də ɡrɑs)

a mortal or finishing blow, esp one delivered as an act of mercy to a sufferer
a final or decisive stroke

Word Origin for coup de grâce

literally: blow of mercy
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 coup de grâce

coup de grâce
[ (kooh duh grahs) ]

The final blow: “He had been getting deeper and deeper in debt; the fates delivered the coup de grâce when he died.” The phrase is French for “stroke of mercy.” It originally referred to the merciful stroke that put a fatally wounded person out of his misery or to the shot delivered to the head of a prisoner after he had faced a firing squad.

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.