What does carte blanche mean?

Carte Blanche is one of those phrases loaned from French. This French expression is pronounced ‘cart BLONSH’. Note that the main stress falls on the second word. To give somebody carte blanche is to give them complete freedom to do whatever they want.

  • My parents were very liberal. They always gave us carte blanche. (= They always gave us absolute freedom to do whatever we wanted to do.)
  • We have given our negotiator carte blanche. (= We have given our negotiator absolute freedom to take decisions on his own.)
  • I knew that she would be able to properly design the project, so I gave her carte blanche.

The term carte blanche was first used in military. It means ‘blank paper’. When you give somebody a signed blank sheet of paper, they have the freedom to write whatever they want on that paper. And because you have already put your signature to the paper, it is binding on you. In the past, surrendering army commanders used to send a blank sheet of paper to the victor with their signature on it. It was a way of telling the victorious commander that he could dictate the terms of surrender. Now this phrase is mainly used to mean ‘absolute freedom’.