from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Unrestricted power to act at one's own discretion; unconditional authority.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A blank paper; specifically, a paper duly authenticated with signature, etc., and intrusted to a person to be filled up at his discretion; hence, figuratively, permission or authority in a particular matter, without condition or qualification; unrestricted power to act or decide.
  • noun In the game of piquet, a hand without a king, queen, or knave.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • A blank paper, with a person's signature, etc., at the bottom, given to another person, with permission to superscribe what conditions he pleases. Hence: Unconditional terms; unlimited authority.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Unlimited discretionary power to act; unrestricted authority

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun complete freedom or authority to act


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French : carte, ticket + blanche, blank.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Borrowing from French carte blanche, referring to a "blank card".


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  • I'm going to make some brazenly uneducated etymological guesses that probably don't have any merit whatsoever, because I'm interested in the topic but really too lazy to do any research of my own. So bear in mind, the following ramble is purely madeupical. :-)

    The Latin word carte translates to card. This is the same root from which we get chart, indicating a physical representation of abstract information. The first charts were star charts mapping the motion of the planets and constellations, believed to have influence over events on earth. Later we'd see the emergence of the tarot, another representation of astrological concepts, this time on many small pieces of paper. It eventually evolved into the playing cards we know today. In modern use, the French phrase a la carte means "with a separate price on the menu," referring again to a representation of abstractions (in this case, each item price), presented in list form.

    Blanche translates to blank, indicating an absence of color or information. From the same root we get the word blanch, which means to whiten by removing color. Indeed, the Spanish word for the color white is blanco. In modern use, we whiten our fabric with chemical bleach, and speak of flavorless or lifeless things as bland.

    The words carte blanche together refer to a "blank card," a symbol of absolute power. The phrase comes from the metaphor of a sheet of paper with nothing written on it -- therefore whoever possesses it is free to write as much or as little as s/he sees fit, without constraints. It is similar to another Latin phrase, tabula rasa, or clean slate, but that's a fake etymology study for another day.

    September 11, 2007

  • Wow, that is one elaborately madeupical etymological study, uselessness. I salute you--especially since it's Monday and my brain isn't that awake yet. :-)

    September 11, 2007

  • I'm forever reading this as "Cate Blanchett."

    March 23, 2012

  • Oh lordy, 'zu. Now I'm infected too! *arrgh* :o)

    March 24, 2012