cartes blanches

carte blanche

[kahrt blanch, blahnch; French kart blahnsh]
noun, plural cartes blanches [kahrts blanch, blahnch; French kart blahnsh] .
unconditional authority; full discretionary power: The government appears to have given the military carte blanche in Afghanistan. She was given carte blanche to decorate her room as she wished, perhaps an unwise decision on the part of her parents. license, free rein, blank check, free hand.
Cards. a hand having no face card but with a special scoring value, as in piquet.

1645–55; < French: literally, blank document; see carte, blank

Carte blanche entered the English language as a French loan word in the mid-17th century, when card games were all the rage. A highly fashionable game of the time was piquet, in which a carte blanche was a hand having no face cards. When not playing piquet, English speakers used carte blanche in a literal sense to refer to physical pieces of paper (“carte”) that were blank or white (“blanche”).
By the 18th century, the meaning had expanded to include blank pieces of paper upon which someone signed his name, trusting a second party to come up with the stipulations of a deal. This idea of signing a yet-unwritten contract and handing over authority to the other party led us to the sense most familiar to speakers of modern-day English. Nowadays, if someone has been given carte blanche, it does not mean that she is holding a blank contract or playing cards. It means that she is free to do or say whatever she pleases.
Note that it is a mistake to say “a carte blanche” unless you are talking about a piquet hand or a blank, signed contract. When used in the sense of giving someone free reign, you say they have been given “carte blanche,” and not “a carte blanche.”
On the other hand, blank check, an English term with very similar meanings, is always used with “a” or some other determiner. That term underwent the same progression as carte blanche from its literal meaning to a figurative one (as in Congress gave the president a blank check of unconditional support). Unlike carte blanche, however, the literal meaning has not fallen out of use. We no longer play piquet, but we still, occasionally, write checks.

Carte Blanche: A painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte. It depicts a horse and rider, apparently walking through a forest, though closer inspection shows the forest visible through the horse and rider. The painting is meant as a meditation on art and its relationship to reality.
Carte Blanche: An album released by American hip-hop artist Phat Kat in the late 2000s.
Carte Blanche: The 37th novel in the James Bond franchise, written by Jeffery Deaver.

“I understand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided only that I get back the gems, and that you would place no limit on the sum I may draw.“
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet“ Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
“[T]his deal gave the developer carte blanche to wield power in a self-interested way.“
—Steve France, “Dusty Doctrines“ ABA Journal (May 2001)
“It’s the kind of success which pretty much gives them carte blanche in terms of what they want to do next, although they’ve always done their own thing.“
—Adam Lowes, “‘Hornet’ Brings in the Green While True Grit Hangs in There“ HeyUGuys (January 18, 2011) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
carte blanche (ˈkɑːt ˈblɑːntʃ, French kart blɑ̃ʃ)
n , pl cartes blanches
1.  complete discretion or authority: the government gave their negotiator carte blanche
2.  cards a piquet hand containing no court cards: scoring ten points
[C18: from French: blank paper]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

carte blanche
1707, from Fr., lit. "blank paper" (see card (n.)); figurative sense of "full discretionary power" is from 1766.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary
carte blanche [(kahrt blahnsh, kahrt blahnch)]

To be given “carte blanche” is to receive the power and authority to do as one wishes: “The prime minister herself did not take any action on the refugee issue but gave her minister of the interior carte blanche to deal with the situation.” Carte blanche is French for “blank card,” meaning one that can be filled in as a person wishes.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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