In a word: amour-propre

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


One hazard in those well-meant efforts to build up the self-esteem of the young (all those attaboys, all those certificates and trophies, more even than journalists hand out) is winding up with too much of it. 

We have a word for that, amour-propre (pronounced ah-moor-PRO-pr'). It is a direct lift from the French amour "love," and propre, "own," "proper." That is "proper" in the sense of "belonging to me." A neutral translation would be "self-esteem," "self-regard," or "having a good opinion of oneself." 

But it has developed in English to mean, as the Oxford English Dictionary advises, "self-love which is ready with its claims, and sensitive to causes of offense." It is touchy. 

Many people see using a French word in place of an English equivalent as pretension, and you can make that work for you. If you want to indicate that someone has an inflated sense of his own worth, is touchy about it, and conveys that sense of himself pretentiously, then amour-propre is ready at hand. 

Example: The OED cites an article in the Times from 1955: "Mr. Malcolm MacDonald has returned to the scene to counsel caution and sooth wounded amour-propre." (Amour-propre is frequently observed to be "wounded.")

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