avant la lettre

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Borrowed from French avant la lettre (literally before the letter).

Prepositional phrase[edit]

avant la lettre

  1. (idiomatic) Before the term was coined. The term being a word or phrase used just previously in an anachronistic way.
    Suffragettes were feminists avant la lettre. (the word "feminist" did not exist during their era)
    • 1998, Dominik Declercq, Writing Against the State: Political Rhetorics in Third and Fourth Century China, page 341:
      as St Francis of Assisi was recently discovered to be an ecologist avant la lettre
    • 2007, Joan DeJean, The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour, page 107:
      a work with a title that is a marketing dream, pure Julia Child well avant la lettre: Le Cuisinier français, The French Chef.
    • 2010, Stefano Evangelista, The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe, page 65:
      One might even advance the case for Wilde's being a celebrity avant la lettre, famous partly for being famous
    • 2015 February 27, Laura Kipnis, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe”, in The Chronicle of Higher Education[1]:
      You have to feel a little sorry these days for professors married to their former students. They used to be respectable citizens—leaders in their fields, department chairs, maybe even a dean or two—and now they’re abusers of power avant la lettre.

See also[edit]


French[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From a caption added to an engraving to describe the drawing.

Pronunciation[edit]

Adjective[edit]

avant la lettre (invariable)

  1. (literally, engraving) before lettering, before letters; proof engraving, proof before letters
    Antonyms: après la lettre, avec la lettre
    épreuve, gravure avant la lettreprint made before the caption is added
    Cette estampe a fait l'objet de cinq tirages avant la lettre.
    (please add an English translation of this usage example)
  2. (figuratively) avant la lettre (before the term was coined)
    C'était un écologiste avant la lettre.
    She was an environmentalist before the term existed.