jeu d'esprit

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Borrowed from French jeu d’esprit (game of the spirit).


jeu d'esprit (plural jeux d'esprit)

  1. A witticism; a witty comment or composition.
    • 1837, L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], Ethel Churchill: Or, The Two Brides. [], volume II, London: Henry Colburn, [], →OCLC, pages 45–46:
      The last jeu d'ésprit circulating among us, is "A Characteristic Catalogue of Pictures." Characteristic enough some of them certainly are! for Mr. Onslow has contributed "A Flower-Piece;" and, if ever man talked poppies and tulips, it is our worthy and flowery speaker. "A Head Unfinished" is by Lord Townshend, of whom his colleague said, "that his brains wanted nothing but ballast!" Mr. Booth obliges us with "A Mist." He ought to be able to paint it most accurately, for he always seems in one.
    • 1988, William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, volume 2, page 506:
      "There is a jeu d'esprit that Frenchmen tell — though only to one another — of how, when God created the earth, he wanted one perfect place, so he made France. Then, seeing what he had done, he decided he had gone too far, so he made Frenchmen."
  2. (dated) A small thing done in the spirit of an idea, not intended to be rigorous or comprehensive.
    • 1872, Herbert Allen Giles, edited by Charles Aylmer, The Memoirs of H. A. Giles, published 1997:
      It was naturally a good deal laughed at in a friendly way, and exception was taken to the absence of Tones. This lack was vigorously defended by a Chinese-speaking captain in the mercantile marine, who quoted Sir Harry Parkes' dictum, “never trouble yourself about the Tones,”—a most erroneous view, with which I have never been in sympathy. My little book, however, was only a jeu d'esprit, in which Tones would have been wholly out of place. My object was to transliterate Chinese strictly according to the values of the English vowels and consonants, so that anyone could pick up the book and read off a simple sentence with a good chance of being understood.