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The Gracious Mortification

Beau geste
[boeh / jhest]

1. A gracious gesture, noble in form, but often futile or meaningless in substance.

“In a magnificent beau geste, the destroyer, hopelessly trapped, turned as if to flee, threw out a smoke screen, when the [enemy ship] charged into it, rammed her at flank speed…” The Last Lion (1988), William Manchester.

Oh come on, another apology? How many times have I apologised to France for cocking up the pronunciation of their words and phrases? I can’t keep apologising. I may as well declare a permanent state of apology to the French. Nothing is ever gonna change. I’m useless with foreign languages. If you want to know what I was attempting to say in the pronunciation part above, Google this phrase and you’ll find it. It’s not really important, is it? Unless you want to use it, which I hope you will do. Which means it is important. Oh, damn.

It’s a hard concept to grasp. A brave gesture without any substance. In the above quote, the destroyer tried to escape, a brave and noble gesture, but it was doomed to failure. It would never have worked, anyone could’ve seen that. The closest English translation, albeit less poetic, is probably ‘going down with all guns blazing’. It’s stupid, but for one final, brave, heroic act, you fight on when all hope is lost, and you… die. This phrase is somewhat tragically wonderful. It’s futile heroism. But the greatest thing about this phrase, is that it casts such a wide net. You may be a ship’s captain going inevitably down with a fight, but equally, you could be going to the prom with a girl well out of your league. That could be considered a beau geste. Not gonna lead to anything is it? What? I’m not being miserable; I applaud you for shooting above your weight. But in the grand scheme of things, she’s gonna marry a footballer and drive about in a Bentley, and you’re gonna marry a traffic warden and drive about in a Fiat Panda.

The phrase is from the French beau, “beautiful”, plus geste, “gesture”.

Beau geste. An interesting French phrase.

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