A cause célèbre (/ /; French: [koz selɛbʁ], famous case; plural causes célèbres) is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases.
The term is a French phrase in common usage in English. In French, cause means, here, a legal case, and célèbre means "famous". The phrase originated with the 37-volume Nouvelles Causes Célèbres, published in 1763, which was a collection of reports of well-known French court decisions from the 17th and 18th centuries. While English speakers had used the phrase for many years, it came into much more common usage after the 1894 conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for espionage, which attracted worldwide interest. Often, politicians and social gadflies will become involved to use the media attention surrounding the case to promote their own agendas.
It has been noted that the public attention given to a particular case or event can obscure the facts rather than clarify them. As one observer states, "The true story of many a cause célèbre is never made manifest in the evidence given or in the advocates' orations, but might be recovered from these old papers when the dust of ages has rendered them immune from scandal".
Notable examples of cases and events described by this term include:
- Ireland Shakespeare forgeries
- Mortara case
- Vera Zasulich trial
- R v Dudley and Stephens cannibalism case
- The Brown Dog affair
- Dreyfus affair
- Beilis case
- Sacco and Vanzetti trial
- Scopes Trial
- Bombing of Dresden in World War II
- Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- Petrov Affair, a Cold War spy incident in Australia
- Shooting of William Woodward Jr.
- Trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal
- Rodney King incident
- O. J. Simpson murder case
- Amanda Knox trial
- Sergei Magnitsky's death
- Julian Assange case
- Pussy Riot trial
- 2012 Delhi gang rape
- Mike Duffy Senate Expense Scandal
- Landmark decision
- List of French words and phrases used by English speakers
- Media circus
- Missing white woman syndrome
- List of French phrases
- Hirsch, E.D., Jr.; Kett, Joseph F.; Trefil, James, eds. (2002). "cause célèbre". The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. Archived from the original on September 21, 2008 – via Bartleby.com.
- "cause célèbre". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000. Archived from the original on August 3, 2008 – via Bartleby.com.
- John Humffreys Parry, "Whistler v. Ruskin: An Attorney's Story of a Famous Trial", in The Living Age... (1921), Volume 308, p. 346.
- Kertzer, David I (1998) . The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-679-76817-3.
- Bristow, Joseph, ed. (2013-05-28). Wilde Discoveries: Traditions, Histories, Archives. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-6570-5. Retrieved 2015-07-15 – via Google Books.
- Edgar Sanderson, Historic Parallels to L'affaire Dreyfus (1900), p. 265: "The unique cause célèbre of the nineteenth century, L'Affaire Dreyfus, is conspicuous for every kind of wickedness that can be brought to bear against an innocent man".
- Weinberg, Robert (2013). Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis. Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-01114-5. Retrieved 2015-07-15 – via Google Books.
- Selden, Mark (2004). "The United States and Japan in Twentieth-Century Asian Wars". In Selden, Mark; So, Alvin Y. War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century. Rowmand and Littlefield. pp. 19–40. ISBN 978-0-7425-2391-3. Selden cites Schaffer, Ronald (1985). Wings of Judgement: American Bombing in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 20–30, 108–109. ISBN 978-0-19-503629-9. OCLC 185504370. Note: The casualty figures are now considered to be lower than those from the firebombing of some other Axis cities; see Tokyo 9–10 March 1945, approximately 100,000 dead, and Hamburg July 1943, approximately 50,000 dead Grayling, A.C. (2006). Among the Dead Cities. Walker Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 0-8027-1471-4.
- Gilbert, Carol Bengle (May 1, 2012). "Rodney King: Before and After the Traffic Stop that Inflamed L.A.". Yahoo News. Archived from the original on March 2, 2014.
- Sowell, Thomas (June 30, 2001) . "The Quest for Cosmic Justice". The Quest for Cosmic Justice. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7432-1507-7. OCLC 898484807.
A more recent cause célèbre of the American criminal justice system was the murder trial of former football star O.J. Simpson, which provoked widespread consternation, not only because of its “not guilty” verdict in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, but also because of the sheer length of time that the trial took.
- Barry, Colleen (September 30, 2013). "New Amanda Knox trial under way in Florence". USA Today. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
- "Dying in Agony: His Reward for Solving a $230 Million Fraud". The Sunday Times. November 14, 2010.
- Sparrow, Jeff; O'Shea, Elizabeth (December 7, 2010). "Open letter: To Julia Gillard, re Julian Assange". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
- O'Neill, Brendan (2013-12-24). "How to become a cause célèbre: a guide for political prisoners". spiked. spiked Ltd. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
- Harikrishnan, Charmy (2015-03-04). "India's Daughter: Why we should watch Leslee Udwin's documentary". Daily O. India Today Group. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
- Gibb, Simon (2012-12-30). "The Delhi Gang Rape Incident". Libertarian Home. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
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