I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. People who have a smattering of French are very mindful of the fact that in this language the final letter of words is usually not pronounced. They forget a small detail – if that final letter is a consonant (any letter except a, e, i, o and u) and it is followed by an ‘e’, then it most certainly is pronounced. ‘Coup de grâce‘ must be one of the most mispronounced phrases by English speakers, for this very reason. In fact, people can be so adamant about it that I’ve even had some kind soul correct ME!!!!! ‘I’m sorry dear, but you don’t say ‘koo de grahs’, you say ‘koo de grah. It’s French, you know’. Actually, I do, and no, you don’t. You most certainly say the final ‘c’, as you would in the English word ‘grace’.
If you don’t say the final ‘c’ (like at ‘s’), then you are saying something altogether different from what you mean to say. ‘Gras’, you see, means ‘fat’ in French, and you pronounce it ‘grah’. Remember ‘foie gras‘, that French delicacy which translates somewhat less appetisingly and elegantly than the French phrase may suggest? If you translate it literally, it means ‘fatty liver’ in French – nothing more. Here’s a big clue that how you say ‘coup de grâce’ certainly makes a difference.
A ‘coup de grâce’ means ‘the blow of mercy’. For example, if a soldier were fatally wounded on the battlefield, a companion may deliver the ‘coup de grâce’ which would end his life quickly and spare him unnecessary suffering. This phrase may also be used in the sense of the final blow – ‘the coup de grâce to what had already been a humiliating day came when Frederick was assaulted by the Sumo wrestler who had had an affair with his wife’.
If you use the phrase, and pronounce ‘grace’ like ‘grah’, you are phonetically saying ‘the blow of fat’, or ‘the fatty blow’. In the case of Frederick you could possibly use this pronunciation as a double entendre, but in every other case, say ‘grahs’, or risk howls of laughter from people who know better. And don’t correct some one’s pronunciation unless you are quite sure you know what you are talking about. Check with Howdoyousaythatword.com first. Listen to the correct way here: