on the qui vive

qui vive

[kee veev]
noun
1.
(italics) French. who goes there?
Idioms
2.
on the qui vive, on the alert; watchful: Special guards were on the qui vive for trespassers.

Origin:
1720–30; < French literally, (long) live who? (i.e., on whose side are you?)

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World English Dictionary
qui vive (ˌkiː ˈviːv)
 
n
on the qui vive on the alert; attentive
 
[C18: from French, literally: long live who?, sentry's challenge (equivalent to "To whose party do you belong?" or "Whose side do you support?")]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

qui vive
1726, from Fr. qui voulez-vous qui vive? sentinel's challenge, "whom do you wish to live," lit. "(long) live who?" In other words, "whose side are you on?"
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

on the qui vive

On the alert, vigilant, as in The police have been warned to be on the qui vive for terrorists. This expression, containing the French words for "[long] live who?" originated as a sentinel's challenge to determine a person's political sympathies. The answer expected of allies was something like vive le roi ("long live the king"). It was taken over into English with its revised meaning in the early 1700s, the first recorded use being in 1726.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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