Tuesday, 24 March 2009

What does Carte Blanche mean: Origin, meaning and example


The following definition of Carte Blanche :
“A blank paper given to any one to fill up with his own terms, hence full discretionary power (1707)”.
Before going any further one needs to look at the origin, as this is useful for interpreting the modern meaning.
Originally from French as in ‘charte blanche’, meaning white/blank paper.
It appears as though there was a military connotation, specifically related to conditions of surrender. Defeated in battle, ones negotiating powers are limited, to say the least. One is at the mercy of the victor when it gets to terms of surrender. Consensus does not form part of this contract; you are in no position to disagree.( Unless you want be be beaten up again)
So, the victorious write the terms of surrender and they can do as they like, without reference to or approval from the defeated. Therefore they have a blank piece of paper to write down the terms of surrender they desire, and that is the end of the story.
Nowadays, Carte Blanche has a much wider meaning, in that one has the authority to chose a course of action that needs no further authorization or approval by another party, in other words to have a free hand to take decisions with no interference.
Giving a “blank cheque” to get a job done in other words.
Problem is that complete freedom in taking decisions does not necessarily relieve you from the negative effects of bad decisions.

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