"You just won the lottery? Chapeau!"

This is the first time I have seen such usage in English.

Literally 'Chapeau' means 'hat', but the intention (that I get from the internet) is something like 'My hat is off to you' or 'Hats off!' or 'Congratulations!' or 'Mad props!' or 'Good for you' or 'Cheers'.

The primary question is: What is the provenance of this in English.

And secondary questions: - at what point did it enter English? Is it direct to British English from across the channel? Or is it North American only, borrowed from French-Canadian? - And what is the feel of it? Is it mostly ironic (as 'good for you' often is)? - Is there a difference in English usage between the French singular 'chapeau!' and the plural 'chapeaux!' (or is it meaningless distinction in English). I've seen both usages.

  • 2
    I personally have never encountered this usage. Have you seen it frequently? Or at least more than occasionally?
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 26, 2015 at 16:10
  • 3
    I think it is just a French expression which is fairly common in continental Europe but that has actually never entered common usage in English. Any usage is related to people familiar with the expression!!
    – user66974
    Feb 26, 2015 at 16:41
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    @FumbleFingers But the expression is used in English, by English speakers who don’t necessarily know the French word or its meaning. That to me makes it an English-as-such word. It’s not in any dictionaries I can find, though, not even Wiktionary, which surprises me, because it’s not that uncommon. (Judging by Mitch, Dan, and ermanen’s comments, it seems it might be just a UK/European/non-North American thing.) Feb 26, 2015 at 17:18
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    @Janus: I speak passable French (I lived there for a year), but I'm not sure I've ever heard a native Anglophone use the term except facetiously or pretentiously. OED lists chapeau because of its specialised sense in heraldry, and chapeau-bras because there isn't really an English equivalent. But the usage under consideration here is effectively just "using a foreign word". Feb 26, 2015 at 17:25
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    The writer was trying to be "continental". The expression is not at all common in US English, and most in the US would have to think a few seconds to comprehend what was meant.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 26, 2015 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


The earliest Google Books match for "Chapeau!" in the sense of "Hats off to you" (probably) is from Robert Lane Kauffmann, "The Other in Question: Dialogical Experiments in Montaigne, Kafka, and Cortázar," in Tullio Maranhão, ed. The Interpretation of Dialogue (1990):

Jack [a fictional graduate student in comparative literature]: It seems you've used an outflanking maneuver against me. Chapeau! To your echo of Wittgenstein's ladder analogy, I answer that I don't let go of the ladder. That is, I don't simply dismiss the texts I choose to comment on, but defend and espouse their critical and experimental aspects, using them against ideological or uncritical positions, whether in the same or in other texts.

This instance is something of an outlier, however, as the next-oldest Google Books matches are to a 2005 restaurant guide's mention of a San Francisco Bay Area bistro named Chapeau! that opened in 1996, and a use of "Chapeau!" in dialogue in an Annie Proulx short story called "I've Always Loved This Place," included in a 2008 collection of Proulx's stories called Fine Just the Way It Was: Wyoming Stories 3.

In any case, whether Robert Lane Kauffmann was simply ahead of his time, or whether comparative literature professors are generally in touch with the pulse of the street and thus can be counted on to lead the literary pack in bringing up-to-date slang into serious published work, the 1990 occurrence in his lengthy article is easily the first in Google Books.

  • Nice research! Not surprising that it is so recent an addition.
    – Mitch
    Mar 24, 2015 at 12:09

It's used jokingly in the British sporting world, perhaps especially in cycling, as an expression of admiration or respect. Possibly popularized by sports commentator David Duffield. See also http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23343625


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