Every time I see this word on a page I think to myself, I am in the presence of a great writer. A day or so ago I saw it in an article by Christopher Hitchens (who I do regard as a very great writer) and was reminded of my delight for this expression. He used it in the opening of his article this way: “I don’t think that a single newspaper or magazine article on Egypt has ever failed to mention the presence, in the wings of Egyptian politics, of the Muslim Brother hood. It’s one of those learned references that is de rigueur for every commentator and analyst…”
And yet as much as I love it, I consistently forget the definition, and fail to incorporate it into my own vocabulary, giving my verbiage that pompous flavour one achieves by tossing in the occasional (or frequent) foreignism—especially French.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the expression is defined as: “Required by the current fashion or custom; socially obligatory.” It comes from the French, meaning literally, “of strictness.”
‘De rigueur’ has a jaunty, highbrow sense about it, like an aristocrat atop his steed or a socialite at a gathering of the ladies’ club. Used in a sentence (your fifth grade teacher was right–it really does help you remember words if you practice using them in a sentence): “Though trendy language and movie-inspired quotes had become de rigueur in the writing biz, she preferred to stick with her usual timeworn language and antiquated literary allusions.”
But I fear ‘de rigueur’ is one of those sad examples of words that look far better on the page than they sound coming out of the mouth. Pronounced with the French accent it comes out something like deh-rih-GOO, with the lion’s share of the emphasis on the GOO. GOO. Unappealing. Perhaps it’s not a word I want to crowbar into my speech as much as my writing. It can still be delightful there.