Sunday, 6 July 2014

How Many Different Types of 'Coup' Are There?

A clenched fist


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Old & modern French from medieval Latin colpus from Latin colaphus from Greek kolaphos blow with the fist.
Reintroduced from French in the 18th century in Branch II.]

Branch I
1 obsolete. A blow given or received in combat. LME-M16

Branch II
2(a) A stroke or move that one makes; especially a notable or strikingly successful move. L18

2(b)coup d'état. M19

2(c) Historical. Among N.American Indians: the act of touching an enemy, as a deed of bravery;
the act of first touching an item of the enemy's in order to claim it. M19

3 BILLIARDS. The direct pocketing of the cue-ball, which is a foul stroke. L18

Everyone knows what a coup is, right? Barely a week seems to pass without Sky News announcing some coup somewhere in the world, usually in countries we have little familiarity with, and the coup usually being a coup d'état, which is French for 'blow of state'. There are, however, many different types of coup, or at least many phrasal nouns using the French 'blow of something' formula. For your Francophilic, revolutionary pleasure, here is a list of some of the most common coups:

Coup d'essai
[literally 'stroke of trial'. rare.]
A first attempt.

Coup d'état
[literally 'blow of State'.]
A violent or illegal change in government.
Formerly also, any sudden and decisive stroke of State policy.

Coup de force
[literally 'stroke of force'.]
A sudden violent action.

Coup de foudre
[literally 'stroke of lightning'.]
A sudden unforeseen event; love at first sight.

Coup de glotte
[literally 'stroke of lightning'.]
A glottal stop.

Coup de grâce
[literally 'stroke of grace'.]
A blow by which a person condemned or mortally hurt is put out of his misery;
A decisive finishing stroke.

Coup de main
[literally 'stroke of hand'.]
Chiefly military. A surprise attack.

Coup de maître
A master stroke.

Coup de poing
[literally 'stroke of fist']
Archaeology. A hand-axe.

Coup de soleil
An attack of sun-stroke.

Coup de théâtre
A theatrical hit;
A sensation or dramatically sudden action of turn of events, specifically in a play.

Coup de vent
[literally 'stroke of wind'.]
A whirlwind; a gale.

Coup d'œil
[literally 'stroke of eye'.]
A comprehensive glance; a general view;
MILITARY. The action or faculty of rapidly sizing up a position and estimating its advantages etc. 

What coups d'you use?

What coups could we lose?

Do please state your case in the box below.


  1. When I read the question in your email: "How Many Different Types of 'Coup' Are There?" I thought: "successful and the uh-oh-bad-idea ones".
    Because I was thinking of the so frequent in foreign countries' Coup d'état. Reading through your so many examples of Coups I believe my first answer wasn't so far off ahahah. Coup de grâce sounds so sweet but talk about deceiving sounds ;)

    1. The first time I learnt the meaning of 'coup de grâce' was as a child in a museum, looking at photos of a man who had survived a firing squad, including the point blank coup de grâce to the head at the end. It was rather traumatising, and I've never forgotten the word or the photos of his injuries.