Definitions

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

  • n. Unrestricted power to act at one's own discretion; unconditional authority: gave the contractor carte blanche to modernize the kitchen.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Unlimited discretionary power to act; unrestricted authority

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 The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. 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.
  • n. In the game of piquet, a hand without a king, queen, or knave.

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

  • n. complete freedom or authority to act

Etymologies

French : carte, ticket + blanche, blank.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Borrowing from French carte blanche, referring to a "blank card". (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • "Do you really intend to give that pair of scamps carte blanche to investigate this problem, sir?"

    Phule me twice

  • Trial judges had carte blanche on evidentiary rulings, and appellate courts didn’t throw out jury verdicts unless the evidentiary errors made a difference in the trial’s outcome.

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  • When he recalled his relationship with Jess in light of his meeting with her grandfather — the attempted seduction in the Barries 'library, the very nearly consummated seduction at the inn, the unchaste embrace and renewed offer of carte blanche at Lord

    Ungrateful Governess

  • This Patent gave a carte blanche to the colonists to settle their own form of government by voluntary consent, or vote, among themselves; and, having it in his pocket, Williams might hope, on his return to America, to set up, in the polity of Rhode Island and its adjacencies, such an example of complete civil democracy combined with absolute religious individualism as the world had never yet seen.

    The Life of John Milton

  • There I may read, draw, or microscopise at pleasure, and as to books, I have a carte blanche from the Captain to take as many as I please, of which permission we shall avail ourself ” rather ” and besides all this, from the peculiar way in which I obtained this appointment, I shall have a much wider swing than assistant surgeons in general get.

    The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley

  • You must not offer her carte blanche again, m'boy.

    Ungrateful Governess

  • He outpaced her with ease and made his courtesies to her mother, who of course introduced him to Aunt Clarissa, who was in ecstasies to give him carte blanche to call at her house whenever he wished.

    Songs of Love & Death

Comments

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

    March 24, 2012

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

    March 23, 2012

  • 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 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