Noblesse - nobility

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Two abstract nouns that may be of interest to readers of AWE are formed from the adjective noble: nobility and noblesse. (Their origin is from the Latin nōbilis, 'well-known', and 'well-born'.)

  • Nobility is the more assimilated, and now native, English word. It means
    • the state of being noble, and
    • the members of the aristocracy; the 'noble-born'; the peerage.
  • Noblesse is the French equivalent. It has the same meanings, in its own language, as nobility has in English (above), but its use as an adopted word in English may involve the following
    • La haute noblesse was 'the high nobility', members of the grade whose English nobility is recorded in AWE's article on noble.
    • La petite noblesse were the gentry.
    • There were about 4000 offices conferring nobility of some kind in the 18th century. Nobility thus attained was called "noblesse de robe" (for judicial offices; "noblesse de cloche" for municipal offices); and "noblesse de l'épée" literally 'nobility of the sword') for military prowess.
    • the phrase noblesse oblige (in the French pronunciation, current in England 'Nob-less ob-leej' IPA: /nəʊ ˌblɛs əʊ ˈbliːʒ/) means literaly 'nobility obliges', or, more generally, that one's [superior] rank in society compels one to behave well', 'that the 'better-born' should set a good example to, and take care of, their "inferiors"'.
Noblesse Oblige is also the title of a book about the language of the British upper classes.