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Cause célèbre

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A cause célèbre (/ˌkɔːz səˈlɛb(rə)/ KAWZ sə-LEB(-rə),[1] French: [koz selɛbʁ]; pl. causes célèbres, pronounced like the singular) is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate.[2] The term continues in the media in all senses. It is sometimes used positively for celebrated legal cases for their precedent value (each locus classicus or "case-in-point") and more often negatively for infamous ones, whether for scale, outrage, scandal, or conspiracy theories.[3] The term is a French phrase in common usage in English. Since it has been fully adopted into English and is included unitalicized in English dictionaries,[4][1][5] it is not normally italicized despite its French origin.

It has been noted that the public attention given to a particular case or event can obscure the facts rather than clarify them. As one observer states, "The true story of many a cause célèbre is never made manifest in the evidence given or in the advocates' orations, but might be recovered from these old papers when the dust of ages has rendered them immune from scandal".[6]


In French, one of the meanings of cause is a legal case, and célèbre means "famous". The phrase originated with the 37-volume Nouvelles Causes Célèbres, published in 1763, which was a collection of reports of well-known French court decisions from the 17th and 18th centuries.

While English speakers had used the phrase for many years, it came into much more common usage after the 1894 conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for espionage during the cementing of a period of deep cultural ties with a political tie between England and France, the Entente Cordiale. Both attracted worldwide interest and the period of closeness or rapprochement officially broadened the English language.


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  1. ^ a b "cause célèbre". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  2. ^ Hirsch, E. D. Jr.; Kett, Joseph F.; Trefil, James, eds. (2002). "cause célèbre". Telecommunications Essay | Bartleby. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. Archived from the original on 21 September 2008 – via Bartleby.com.
  3. ^ "cause célèbre". Homework Help and Textbook Solutions | bartleby. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000. Archived from the original on 3 August 2008 – via Bartleby.com.
  4. ^ "cause célèbre". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 13 March 2024.
  5. ^ Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. S.v. "cause célèbre." Retrieved November 30, 2018 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/cause+c%c3%a9l%c3%a8bre
  6. ^ John Humffreys Parry, "Whistler v. Ruskin: An Attorney's Story of a Famous Trial", in The Living Age (January–March 1921), Vol. 308, p. 346.
  7. ^ Kertzer, David I (1998) [1997]. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-679-76817-3.
  8. ^ Bristow, Joseph, ed. (28 May 2013). Wilde Discoveries: Traditions, Histories, Archives. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-6570-5. Retrieved 15 July 2015 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Sanderson, Edgar; Historic Parallels to L'affaire Dreyfus (1900), p. 265: "The unique cause célèbre of the nineteenth century, L'Affaire Dreyfus, is conspicuous for every kind of wickedness that can be brought to bear against an innocent man".
  10. ^ Susan L. Mizruchi (2008). The rise of multicultural America. University of North Carolina Press. p. 293. ISBN 9780807832509.
  11. ^ Weinberg, Robert (2013). Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis. Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-01114-5. Retrieved 15 July 2015 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Islam, Sirajul. "Bhawal Case". Banglapedia. Bangladesh Asiatic Society.
  13. ^ Chaudhuri, Supriya (6 October 2002). "The man who would be king". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 19 April 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  14. ^ Srimati Bibhabati Devi v Kumar Ramenda Narayan Roy and others (Fort William (Bengal)) (1946) UKPC 32 (30 July 1946)
  15. ^ Murad Fyzee – A Prince, Poison and Two Funerals: The Bhowal Sanyasi Case, English Edition Publishers (2003), ISBN 81-87853-32-8
  16. ^ Ann, Rule (2000). The Sranger Beside Me (Updated 20th anniversary ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0393050297. OCLC 44110374.
  17. ^ LeBor, Adam (4 August 2003). Milosevic: A Biography. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-7475-6181-1.
  18. ^ Gilbert, Carol Bengle (1 May 2012). "Rodney King: Before and After the Traffic Stop that Inflamed L.A." Yahoo News. Archived from the original on 2 March 2014.
  19. ^ Sowell, Thomas (30 June 2001) [1999]. The Quest for Cosmic Justice. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7432-1507-7. OCLC 898484807. A more recent cause célèbre of the American criminal justice system was the murder trial of former football star O.J. Simpson, which provoked widespread consternation, not only because of its "not guilty" verdict in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, but also because of the sheer length of time that the trial took.
  20. ^ Barry, Colleen (30 September 2013). "New Amanda Knox trial under way in Florence". USA Today. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  21. ^ "Dying in Agony: His Reward for Solving a $230 Million Fraud". The Sunday Times. 14 November 2010.
  22. ^ Amara, Tarek (6 January 2011). "Tunisian lawyers strike, civil unrest continues". Reuters. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  23. ^ Sparrow, Jeff; O'Shea, Elizabeth (7 December 2010). "Open letter: To Julia Gillard, re Julian Assange". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 5 May 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  24. ^ O'Neill, Brendan (24 December 2013). "How to become a cause célèbre: a guide for political prisoners". spiked. Spiked Ltd. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  25. ^ Harikrishnan, Charmy (4 March 2015). "India's Daughter: Why we should watch Leslee Udwin's documentary". Daily O. India Today Group. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  26. ^ Gibb, Simon (30 December 2012). "The Delhi Gang Rape Incident". Libertarian Home. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  27. ^ Barrett, Joe (1 September 2020). "Kyle Rittenhouse, Charged With Killing Two in Kenosha, Sees Strong Fundraising Support". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 July 2022.

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