I found myself a few years ago at a dining table with several people, among them a man I disliked very much. The reasons for my dislike of this man are unimportant; I ask the reader merely to accept that he was indeed a most vile, graceless and ill-mannered person. He chewed with his mouth open and loudly so that if one were to close one’s eyes it would not have been unreasonable to assume that one had been joined at table by a hungry camel.
I forget now the subject of the conversation during that particular meal but it apparently prompted me to employ the phrase coup de grace. No sooner had the words flowed elegantly from my mouth than Mr. X dropped his eating utensils onto his plate, smiled wide, and said through a mouthful of partially chewed food, “It’s coo-de-GRA. I thought you knew French!”
His raised eyebrows and awkward smirk implied satisfaction.
Now, while there have been moments in life when my tone and attitude toward some people and about some subjects could be described accurately as pedantic, this was not such a moment. I wiped my lips with my napkin and replied casually, “You’re thinking of gras – g-r-a-s – as in foie gras, a kind of duck or goose liver. What I just said was grace – g-r-a-c-e – which means pretty much the same in French as in English. The c is pronounced.”
Mr. X removed his glasses, which was a sign either that he was trying to appear interested in a person, usually in a romantic way, or that he was agitated. I hoped it was not the first possibility that prompted him to remove his glasses just at that instant.
“Oh, so you’re Mister French professor.”
“No, but I said what I said correctly.”
Mr X returned his glasses to his scaly face and resumed chewing noisily.