Élan is a hasty, sudden enthusiasm or liveliness.
Part of speech:
Usually an uncountable noun.
(Like “milk,” “rice,” and “education,” uncountable nouns are words for stuff that can’t be broken into exact units. You talk about “some milk,” “the rice,” and “a lot of education,” but you don’t say “a milk,” “three rices,” or “many educations.”
Likewise, talk about “the élan,” “such élan,” “no élan,” and so on, but don’t say “élans.”)
You can also treat this word as a countable noun: talk about "a certain élan," "an effortless élan," and so on, but still, we don't pluralize the word.
Some respected publishers do leave off that little accent mark and simply print "elan." Do the same if you prefer.
How to use it:
This word used to mean "a sudden rush outward," like soldiers would do on the battlefield, which explains why "élan" looks like "lance." You can say something has élan if it seems to shoot forward with sudden vigor and style.
Some people use this word more loosely as a synonym for "vivacity" or "stylish elegance," but I recommend sticking to its more specific meaning of eagerness that is hasty, sudden, or rushing.
So, say that people have, show, reveal, display, or demonstrate élan. You can talk about someone's élan ("his élan on the dance floor") or the elan of someone ("the élan of these dancers.") Your work, your art, your speech, your dancing, your writing and so on can have élan, and you can do something with élan: "Responding to the cheers from the crowd, he improvised a guitar solo with great élan." And you can just talk about élan in general: "Planning and preparation matter more than élan in this competition."
For a beautiful portrait of the pure élan of a kid in the summertime, check out E.B. White's essay, "Once More to the Lake."
A typical Fiona Apple song has neat, tightly rhyming verses; a catchy chorus; and then one rapid-fire bridge that speeds up, full of élan, and if you were trying to sing along it makes you run out of breath and stumble over the lyrics.
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "élan" means when you can explain it without saying "bold style" or "impetuous vivacity."
Think of someone you know who is full of life and spontaneity, and fill in the blanks: "(Person's) élan always makes me smile, especially when _____."
Example: "Taylor's élan always makes me smile, especially when she breaks out in a little dance whenever she hears music."
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
This month, we're playing New Word Order! It's a card game that I recently created; it involves figuring out the order in which certain words and phrases entered our language. I'll give you several words and/or phrases, and you'll use your knowledge of history, slang, technology, popular culture, fashion, psychology, etc. to put them into chronological order. I'll post the right answer to each question on the following day. If you like this game, you can download and print it to play with your family and friends. (It's free.)
Remember, you don't need to come up with the actual years--just try to get the words in the correct time order.
Try these today:
Close-captioned, crowdsourcing, & decaf.
A Point Well Made:
Eleanor Roosevelt: "I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity."
1. The opposite of ÉLAN is
2. He spoke with an easy élan, always _____.
A. respectful of others' dissenting opinions, no matter how extreme
B. calling on precise statistical facts to lend credence to his views
C. inventing a vivid phrase or recalling a colorful, hilarious anecdote
Answers are below.
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Make Your Point is crafted with love and brought to you each day for free by Mrs. Liesl Johnson, M.Ed., a word lover, learning enthusiast, and private tutor of reading and writing in the verdant little town of Hilo, Hawaii. For writing tips, online learning, essay guidance, and more, please visit www.HiloTutor.com.
Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.
You might see in your dictionary or thesaurus that today's word, "élan," is a synonym of panache. But see if you can determine the subtle difference, and then decide which word is more appropriate to describe an incredible marching band performance, and which is better to describe a young girl who improvises a dance routine, and why.
Also, let's make sure that "élan" doesn't get confused with our previous word éclat. They're similar and both are lovely words, but they're not exactly the same. Recall that when you do something with éclat, you do it in a dazzlingly successful way (or a dazzlingly showy way.) But when you do something with élan, you do it with a gutsy, bold enthusiasm.
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