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A.Word.A.Day--eminence grise

Pronunciation RealAudio

eminence grise (ay-mee-nahns GREEZ) noun, also, gray eminence plural eminences grises (ay-mee-nahns GREEZ)

One who wields unofficial power, often secretly, through someone else.

[From French éminence grise, literally gray eminence.]

"Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru's former spy chief, was arrested in Venezuela and deported to Lima to face charges of arms- and drug-dealing, embezzlement, directing death-squads and money-laundering. Mr Montesinos was the eminence grise behind President Alberto Fujimori, who was forced to resign last year."
Politics This Week, The Economist (London), Jun 30, 2001.

Clothes Make the Man. So goes an old saying. While we know it is what is inside that really counts, there is a grain of truth in the statement. And in many cases, it is the distinctive clothes that turn out to be defining marks of some. We all are familiar with redcoats (British soldiers) and blue stockings (women with intellectual interests). Today's term provides another example where clothes are used as a symbol for a particular type of people.

Francois Leclerc du Tremblay, aka Pére Joseph (1577-1638) was a French monk and secretary of Cardinal Richelieu. However, the monk was more than just a secretary. He was the Cardinal's confidant who governed the diplomatic negotiations on his behalf and encouraged French participation against Protestant forces in the Thirty Years' War. The Cardinal wore a red habit and was known as Eminence Rouge. The monk, on the other hand, went with a gray shade, and accordingly, his title became synonymous with people exercising unofficial influence.

It is easy to find people in many organizations who would precisely fit today's term. Can you think of someone from modern times who would qualify for this epithet? Hint: think of top political figures in the US. And meanwhile in this week's AWAD enjoy other words to describe people.


With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown. -Chinese proverb

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