Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Claque - Applause for Thought (and Money)

Hands clapping at a concert
Photo by Neekoh Fi


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, from claquer to clap.]

A hired body of applauders;
transferred a body of sycophantic followers.


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[French, from claquer (see preceding).]

A member of a claque.

Here's something to think about - the next time you're at the theatre, opera, ballet or comedy club, and the response from the audience is suspiciously enthusiastic, replete with whistles, whoops and we're-not-worthys, consider that there might be a claque at play, and someone is being paid to sit through this and laugh, clap and generally enthuse in all the right places.

Hired approval is nothing new, of course - it's existed at least since the time of the Greeks, and the Roman emperor Nero even established a school of applause which wasn't called The Academy of Claquery but I think it damn well should have been. Where claques really took off, though, was in France in the 19th century, where virtually every opera house was compelled to submit to their services. There were even specialised types of claqueur: the chef de claqueur lead the claque, of course, and commissaires would familiarise themselves with the performances and point out the especially good bits to those around them; rieurs laughed loudly during comedies, chatouilleurs worked to keep the audience in good humour, pleureuses wept during the sad bits, and the bisseurs ensured that there was a call for an encore.

And if you're wondering why a theatre would feel compelled to use claques rather than, say, just ensuring that their performances were good and worthy of applause, they were also capable of turning up at shows and booing performances, either at their own behest or that of a theatre's competitor. That, to me, rather sounds like a protection racket, albeit a dramatic, purple-curtained, thespian protection racket.

Anyway, the next time you're sitting down to your favourite show, or even watching a panel show on TV, be on the lookout for claques. And don't be pressured into applauding just because they are. You have the power.

A trio of North Korean army officers clapping with Kim Jong-un
I'm not sure if this qualifies as a claque - who wouldn't be clapping in this instance?
Are you a claqueur?

Would you like to be?

Do please put your hands together (in a typing motion) and leave your plauditory comments in the box below.


  1. It seems that in old times if you wanted a reaction you had to pay for it... I know saying it this way sounds weird... but not so long ago in my Country when a family predicted there wouldn't be enough crying (caterwauling ;)) in a funeral there were certain ladies you could (would) pay to do the job.
    Now I learn this.
    Last times I went to theatre, opera etc I would have paid for people to "sit through it and laugh, clap and generally enthuse in all the right places." Added bonus for turning off the phone ;)

    Clap Clap Clap (in staccato mode) for bringing this, Eddie!


    1. Why thank you, Teresa - you can be Lexicolatry's resident claqueur : o )

      Note: position is unpaid.