Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Savoir Faire

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 21, 2010

In a New York Times article published on November 24, 1929, journalist Edwin Clark wrote: 

Good Queen Anne, a dull and stubborn woman, resigned during a celebrated period of English history, a period comparable to that of Elizabeth or Victoria. The second oldest daughter of James II. she lacked the Stuart charm, intelligence and savoir faire.

The phrase “savoir faire” was in reference to the more genteel nuances of well-mannered behaviour.  Even those of modest upbringing could aspire to a certain “savoir faire” without appearing pretentious to those above and below their social class.

In 1850, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to Mrs Jameson, stating:  

I have read “Shirley” lately; it is not equal to “Jane Eyre” in spontaneousness and earnestness. I found it heavy, I confess, though in the mechanical part of the writing – the compositional savoir faire – there is an advance.” 

In fact, throughout the 1800s, it appears that the phrase “savoir faire” was well known and well used.   W.P. Robertson wrote in a letter dated 1838 to Thomas Fair, Esq. that: 

Monsieur and Madame Bonpland arrived in Buenos Ayres from France.  The fame, the talents, and the science of the one — the accomplishments and fascinating matters of the other — and the savoir faire and unaffected urbanity of both — made their society to be generally sought in the capital of the provinces of the River Plate.

However prior to the 1800s, the term was used solely by the French.

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One Response to “Savoir Faire”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Midnight In Chicago , Midnight In Chicago . Midnight In Chicago said: Savoir Faire — it's been arouind for a long time, flouncing about with its legalese background. Learn more here: http://t.co/yRkyYty […]

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