Thursday, 13 June 2013

Bien pensant

God, Priest, Vicar, Church, Catholic, Saint, Holy, Theologian,
Theologian Alexander Schnütgen as painted by Leopold von Kalkreuth


Adjectival & noun phrase. As noun bien-pensant (plural pronounced same). Early 20th-century.
[French, bien well, pensant present participle of penser think.]

(A person who is) right-thinking, orthodox, conservative.

As a word and concept, bien pensant is highly subjective. While orthodoxy and conservatism are a little easier to call, who is qualified to declare that one person is 'right-thinking' while another is not? Surely one man's right-thinking bien pensant is another man's wrong-thinking mal pensant, right?

A problem with right-thinking orthodox conservative types is the temptation to use their orthodoxy as an argument unto itself: "That's the way we've always done it - therefore it's the right and proper way." If such thinking is used to circumvent giving logical, reasoned arguments as to why something should be so, or why a certain belief is held, it can barely be described as "right-thinking" and is probably closer to narrow-minded bigotry.

Unfortunately, in certain matters I find myself succumbing to this temptation. With regards the necessity of the much-abused and oft-maligned apostrophe, I am undoubtedly bien pensant: orthodox, conservative, and in my mind thoroughly right-thinking. You see, the apostrophe is a vital and intrinsic component of the English language: that clarity and accuracy should be compromised because of a few half-wits who cannot be bothered to learn how to use it is thoroughly unthinkable. The apostrophe is the way it's been done since time immemorial and is therefore the right, proper and correct way and must not, nay will not, be changed. There is no debate; I will not discuss it further; I am bien pensant.

All very subjective indeed (though in the matter of the apostrophe I'm right - without a shadow of a doubt).

If you're wondering who the pictured Alexander Schnütgen is, I've no idea (beyond that he was a German theologian). I thought he illustrated bien pensant well and no doubt many of his time would have considered him so. If you have any thoughts on today's post, or indeed can tell us anything about Mr Schnütgen, do please elucidate us in the comment box. 


  1. If bien pensant means orthodox, then by definition it's someone who doesn't think at all.

    1. Oooh! Ouch! But if I may posit something with utmost gentility, if the orthodox position is in fact true, then surely the orthodoxy is no evidence of an unthinking mind. What say you?

    2. Sorry - that did come over as a bit waspish, didn't it. Of course one can agree thoughtfully with the orthodox viewpoint, but then, of course, the orthodox bit is pure coincidence.

      I'm sure this is the case with you and apostrophes!

    3. I like apostrophes - in a really odd way. I know they can seem a bit stand-offish and aloof; I just wish people would give them the time and chance; just get to know them a bit. Then they would see that they're really rather beautiful.

      Apostrophilia. That's what it is : o )

  2. I am likewise part of the apostrophe orthodoxy (apostrodoxy?). I regularly sweep Wikipedia for instances of the misspelling "it's own", and correct any I find. It's a small thing, but perhaps it will help to stem the tide of apostroheresy.

    1. Yes, apostracy and all apostrate thinking must be extinguished : o D