Posted by Smokey Stover on January 16, 2007
In Reply to: PIECE DE RESISTANCE posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 15, 2007
: : : What is the meaning of this phrase? I remember a pub bore telling me it was French for Torture Chamber - "piece" meaning room, and "resistance" referring to the resistance of the person being interrogated, which presumably would be overcome through torture. Is there any truth to this?
: : No. It is much simpler than that - it means a piece (or article) of (or with) staying power, longevity or the like.
: : DFG
: Your pub bore had come across a hoary joke genre called "Fractured French", and either had failed to realise it was a joke, or was pulling your leg with it. "Fractured French" consists of (mildly) amusing skewed translations of stock French phrases, as in the following:
: Coup de grace - lawnmower
: Tant pis, tant mieux - Auntie spends a penny, Auntie feels better
: J'y suis, j'y reste - I'm Swiss and I'm staying
: Moi aussi - I'm Australian.
: and so on and so forth. (VSD)
Okay, you guys, can we get back to the table? The most common meaning of pièce de résistance is the main dish at a dinner, or as the OED puts it:
" 1. The most substantial dish of a meal. Now rare.
In quot. 1789 used in fig. context so as to resemble sense 2.
[1797 E. BURKE Lett. Peace Regic. France iv, in Wks. IX. 7 Our appetite demands a piece of resistance.] 1789 R. CUMBERLAND Imposters I. 13 Fair Eleanor is the dish of dainties at the head of the table; plain Dorothy is the piece de resistance at the foot of it. ...
2. The prize item in a collection, group, or series; the climax or most impressive part of an event, display, etc.
1878 Scribner's Monthly Dec. 279/1 In the Austrian Gallery, Mackart's large picture of 'Charles V. entering Antwerp', is the pièce de resistance. 1893 Outing 22 149/2 The pièce de résistance of the entire ride lies between Poughkeepsie and Yonkers. 1958 Observer 9 Mar. 10/4 But do not miss, as you so easily could, the two pièces de résistance. 1995 Mixmag May 19/1 His piece de resistance is a huge wooden box full of placebo drugs."
For most people, I think, sense 1 provides the model for understanding the various uses in sense 2.