BÊTE NOIRE [beyt nwahr] : a detested person

I find it hard to identify someone as a “hated person.”  It’s a really, really awful thing to say about someone, meaning that the person has no redeemable qualities.    That’s what is meant by a bête noire.  This is an (obviously) French word that has come over into the English language intact…even the circumflex accent mark survived the trip.  Its English meaning is a detested person.   Even that is easier to say than hated.

One can detest a person for having done something terrible. That means that it sickens you to even see or think about the person.  They have done something so awful that their name or face is nauseating.   I can put a person like Bernie Madoff (pictured here) in that category.  His greedy, selfish, and despicable behavior ruined the lives of thousands of people, some of them his own family and best friends.   He did it without a blush.  It was all about him making hundreds of millions of dollars off their investments.

Bernie Madoff is seen as a bête noire.   He is a detested person and will remain so for the rest of his life.  That term is used commonly in literature and frequently in reportage.    It is somewhat of a stuffy term; it often seems to me that the person using it is being verbally exhibitionist.   But there are times when it adds to the piece and can be used without criticism.

I find it hard to say I hate Bernie Madoff.   I certainly don’t want to sit and have a conversation with him, and I don’t want to be his pen pal over the next 145+ years of his imprisonment.   I won’t hang his photo on my refrigerator next to that of the First Family.   And I don’t even wish him well.  I hope his imprisonment is hard for him. There are innocent people whose trust for him and his policies allowed them to invest their entire future in his corporation, only to be left with nothing.   The “rest of their lives” are hard because they did nothing wrong.  Next to him, that is a dramatic measurement.

Hatred is more than a superficial emotional condition.  It has a spiritual dimension to it, stemming from a belief that a person should be relegated to Hell.   I put the term hate in the same category as the phrase, “Go to Hell.”  That may, well, be one of the most horrendous things one can say to another human being.  For one thing, it is putting one’s self in the place of God, who is seen as the arbitrator of one’s eternal destiny.  But beyond that, it is a judgment which has no option to it.   There is no room for reconciliation or rehabilitation.

A bête noire may be a detestable person, but I prefer to stop short of saying I hate them.



Photo Credit: kisselpaso

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