Cause Célèbre – Meaning & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Cause célèbre isn’t a term you hear often used in everyday conversation. I’ve really only ever seen it within the context of a powerful new story. But it’s a phrase that can be applied to anything popular or high profile, like a murder case or celebrity gossip. Let’s take a closer peek at the meaning behind cause célèbre so you can use it, too.

What Is the Meaning of Cause Célèbre?

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It sounds like a fancy term, but it really just means a person or a situation that is notorious or widely known for something specific. Celebre in English roughly translates to celebrity or icon, which is why it can be used to describe everything from some hot gossip you read in a magazine to a notorious criminal case that’s in the media.

Cause Celebre Origin

One of the earliest indications of the term being used was in a collection of reports on popular French court cases in 1763 called Nouvelles Causes Célèbres, a 37-volume document.

Do You Need the Accent Marks for the Word Célèbre?

Yes and no. In the French language, it’s definitely needed to read correctly. But in English, we sometimes drop the accent marks for simplicity, and both versions are technically correct and accepted.

Accent marks show how to pronounce certain letters in a French word. But, in this case, you can safely use the term with or without.

How Do You Pronounce Célèbre?

The whole phrase is pronounced as kawz-cey-leb-ruh, but celebre on its own is pronounced cey-leb-ruh.

Synonyms for Cause Célèbre

  • Talk of the town
  • Celebrity spotlight
  • Hot potato
  • Controversial case or issue
  • Star
  • Superstar
  • Famous
  • High profile

What Is the Plural of Cause Celebre?

It’s simply causes célèbres.

Using Cause Célèbre in a Sentence

  • The infamous trial of O.J. Simpson was a cause célèbre in the 1990s and attracted widespread media coverage and public interest. It had such an impact that the case is still talked about and referenced today.
  • The controversy surrounding the construction of a new highway through a protected wildlife habitat here in Newfoundland became a cause célèbre for Canadian environmental activists.
  • The fight for LGBTQ rights has been a cause célèbre for decades, with numerous court cases and public demonstrations aimed at promoting equality and acceptance. Unfortunately, it’s still such a hot and widely debated topic today.
  • The gruesome death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers kickstarted a nationwide cause célèbre, leading to ongoing severe protests and calls for systemic change in the criminal justice system. His death sparked a much-needed conversation around the matter.
  • A case of a young woman who was denied access to abortion became a cause célèbre, reigniting the debate over reproductive rights and women’s health.
  • One of the biggest causes célèbres here in Newfoundland was the sudden drowning of two young sisters and their parents’ malicious involvement. The case has since been adapted for film and book rights.

The cases of Rojo and Slimani became Sporting’s cause célèbre of the summer, the hierarchy outraged at perceived “breaches of contractual duties” given their clear desire to leave. [The Guardian]

Final Words on Cause Celebres

It’s really as simple as that, folks. Now you know what the term cause célèbre means, what the accent marks are for, and how you can correctly use it in dialogue or writing.