There was the following sentence in the New York Times article titled “Marry first, Then cheat” dealing with François Hollande’s “mistress scandals”:

“Over good wine and small portions across Paris, there was appalled discussion that Stephen Colbert, who had filleted Hollande’s shenanigans on his show, was seated to the right of Michelle Obama at the state dinner, in the magic circle with the president where Trierweiler would have been, had she not been trundled off to the love guillotine.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/dowd-marry-first-then-cheat.html?hp&rref=opinion

I was in understanding that the word, ‘fillet’ simply means “a piece of meat or fish without bones” as Cambridge English Dictionary defines.

I checked other dictionaries:

OED defines it as;

n. a fleshy boneless piece of meat from near the loins or the ribs of an animal.

vt.: cut (fish or meat) into boneless strips.

Merriam-Webster defines it as noun:

1.a fleshy boneless piece of meat from near the loins or the ribs of an animal:

2.a band or ribbon worn round the head, especially for binding the hair.

verb: to cut into fillets.

None of the above quoted definitions seems to be applicable to the sentence, “Stephen Colbert filleted Hollande’s shenanigans on his show.”

Though I’m assuming that ‘fillet’ is used in the meaning of “criticize” or “ridicule” from the context, I’m not sure. What does it mean? Is ‘fillet’ commonly used in such a way as a verb to mean anything other than a part of meat?

  • That word is also a verb. Moreover, any noun can also be verbed. And OpEd writers do that more than most others. So that's no big deal.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 6:43
  • Oishi, Ms. Dowd should be familiar to you by now. She makes grammar.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 6:44
  • @Kris. I’m not saying it’s a big deal. I know most nouns can be used as verb. Anybbody in this site knows it. I’m just asking for the meaning which I was unable to find in CED, OED and Merriam-Webster. BTW, you gave a “Close” and down vote as usual as soon as my question appears, don’t you? I repeat, why are you so much interested in my questions? Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 8:15

2 Answers 2


To fillet means to cut into thin slices—usually an operation requiring skill and delicacy.

To cut someone to pieces or cut someone to ribbons means to destroy them, usually (these days) in a figurative sense: to reduce them to incoherence or incapability or nonentity.

Consequently, Ms. Dowd insinuates that Mr. Colbert skilfully and delicately carved up M. Hollande's reputation by exhibiting his erotic misdemeanours.

It's probably not irrelevant that fillet, though it has been around in English in this sense since the 15th century, is pronounced in US English as if it were French (sort of): /fɪ'leɪ/. Ms. Dowd seems to be pushing every Frankism she can think of into that article.

  • 1
    True. Dowds crammed all available French and French origin words - “amour-propre,” “mal de mer,” “Ne me quitte pas,” “vicomte” on top of “faux pas,” “finesse,” ”etiquette,” “savoir-faire,” “ rendezvous,” “je ne sais quoi,” and “comme il fau” into this short piece. Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 5:35
  • All that French there was no accident.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 6:46

The general rule is that if the words use produces the intended bloody visualization or conveys a savage attack, when a verbal one has taken place then yes, I believe that you may take literary licence. The reader will decide for themselves if the term is appropriate, yet I dispute there do not exist circumstances, where being "filleted" verbally would be in tune with having ones point "torn to shreds". These are however known as figures of speech.

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