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What is the difference between coquette and flirt? They seem to mean the exact same thing; is it only their historical or etymological baggage that determines different usage?

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  • damned hussies! – user13141 Oct 1 '11 at 15:16
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No, they are not synonymous. A coquette is an insincere flirt, it has an implication of deliberate manipulation, and malicious intent. "Tease" might be close to a synonym. Whereas flirting doesn't carry that connotation at all. To put it another way, all coquettes are flirts, but not all flirts are coquettes.

If a woman is flirting with the deliberate intent of initiating a romantic encounter, she would not be a coquette. If she was doing so, simply to make the man think she was even though she never intended to engage in such an encounter, she would be a coquette.

BTW, I understand that men are teases too, but coquette always refers to a female, because of its form. I in no way intend to imply a sexist implication. Of course if you remove the feminine ending "ette" from the word coquette, you certainly get something referring to a man :-)

  • The term that springs to mind in the context of 'coquette' is 'prick teaser'. Maybe that's just in BrEng. – Barrie England Sep 30 '11 at 18:39
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    I don't accept this distinction. The primary difference is simply that coquette is a less common word more likely to be used by "educated" speakers. As this NGram shows, flirt occurs more often with the casual/informal she's a flirt. But she is a coquette dominates with the more formal version – FumbleFingers Sep 30 '11 at 18:41
  • @BarrieEngland Alas, Barrie, I regret to inform you that prick teases are hardly unknown on my side of the Atlantic. However, we don’t usually have an -r at the end. – tchrist Apr 22 '13 at 20:08
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The dictionary seems to make little distinction between the two terms. However, they do appear to be used differently sometimes. For instance, in Henry James' "Daisy Miller: A Study", Winterbourne makes a distinction between the two in Chapter I:

"But this young girl was not a coquette in that sense; she was very unsophisticated; she was only a pretty American flirt."

James seems to use coquette much in the way Fraser Orr defines it above.

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I agree with FumbleFingers that there's no real distinction between the two words. Dictionary.com says the meaning of coquette is:

a woman who flirts lightheartedly with men to win their admiration and affection; flirt.

And similarly, it defines flirt as:

to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; coquet.

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The origin of the word Coquette is french.

As defined by linternaute.com, the three main meanings of the words are:

  1. Qui aime plaire, qui cherche à séduire les hommes.
  2. Qui fait très attention à sa façon de s'habiller, de se maquiller (à propos d'une femme).
  3. Qui est beau ou belle, agréable à regarder.

Which, translated literally, would result in:

  1. Who likes to please/appeal, who seeks to seduce men
  2. (Applies to women only) Who pays close attention to how she dresses and how her make-up looks
  3. (Applies to both men and women) Who is beautiful/handsome, nice to look at

In english,merriam-webster defines the word as follows:

a woman who endeavors without sincere affection to gain the attention and admiration of men

Which would mostly fit with the first french definition, although it is note-worthy that none of the french definitions imply the "without sincere affection" part.

Therefore, it depends on how you want to use the word: Either by meaning, as Fraser Orr said, a "tease", or by sticking more closely to its origins and meaning a seducing women, which comes closer to "flirt", while still not being synonymous.

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Passage of narrator, paragraph 32, from the book The Legend of Sleepy Hollow differentiates in this way:

I profess not to know how women’s hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle and admiration. Some seem to have but one vulnerable point, or door of access; while others have a thousand avenues, and may be captured in a thousand different ways. It is a great triumph of skill to gain the former, but a still greater proof of generalship to maintain possession of the latter, for a man must battle for his fortress at every door and window. He who wins a thousand common hearts, is therefore entitled to some renown; but he who keeps undisputed sway over the heart of a coquette, is indeed a hero.

This passage demonstrates the differences between what today are called high-maintenance and low-maintenance women. This idea sets up women as something of a commodity, and high-maintenance women (coquettes) sometimes willingly play the part.

As the narrator suggests, the coquette sometimes plays hard to get in order to make the man prove that he is truly a hero, but other coquettes are stereotypically inconsistent and irrational such that the suitor must be on the top of his game--and extremely attentive--in order to woo the coquette's heart.

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    And how does that show the difference between coquette and flirt? – Matt E. Эллен Mar 4 '15 at 10:56

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