I would like to use the expression "raison d'etre" in my writing. What I would like to express is a lack of thinking or mental activity when someone doesn't question a process — they just follow it. They do not look for the essence of the activity (why was it created? how can it help? etc). This attitude can be positive or negative; in my case it is positive.

What I wrote is

They do not question the raison d'etre of the process, they just follow it.

I don't know whether this is correct, and whether it means what I want to say.

  • 7
    Why on earth do you want to use a term whose meaning you don't understand? Say what you mean in terms you do understand. Jul 14 '15 at 13:47
  • 2
    Because, if I always use the words I know, there is no development in my language skills. Jul 14 '15 at 13:55
  • 6
    I agree with @StoneyB here - especially as raison d'être is probably not the best choice here. Hint: We all have a passive vocabulary that's way bigger than our active. Work on that by reading etc and you'll notice "new" or "bigger" words gradually slipping into your active use because you understand the full meaning of these expressions (instead of 'A' translates into 'B') and can use them instinctly and comfortably - instead of trying hard "to make it work somehow" or "to sound sophisticated".
    – Stephie
    Jul 14 '15 at 14:07
  • Maybe better to use "status quo" than raison d'etre.
    – user100553
    Sep 5 '19 at 13:11

"raison d'etre" doesn't fit very well here. While the literal translation into English is "reason to be," when English speakers start using French phrases, it's usually because we're trying to express something more than the literal translation. Otherwise we'd just speak English.

It's most commonly used to refer to someone's primary purpose in life: the thing that matters most to them.

"Music was Beethoven's raison d'etre."

"Her children are her raison d'etre."

"When the war ended, the soldier lost his raison d'etre."

While it can be used in other contexts, in a lot of cases it will just come across as gratuitous French.

Here are some phrases that I think express what you want:

They do not question the reasoning behind the process, they just follow it.

They do not question the purpose of the process, they just follow it.

  • 1
    I would suggest mentioning the English idiom which would express your first example as "His love of music is what propelled Beethoven to get out of bed every morning." A rather awkward construction which doesn't quite work in the active voice ["Beethoven was propelled to get out of bed every morning by his love of music"] since the latter sounds more like a literal claim that Beethoven got out of bed every morning than like an idiomatic statement of what propelled him.
    – supercat
    Jul 14 '15 at 19:43
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    +1 - just want to add, depending on the context, perhaps the phrase "behind the scenes" fits. e.g. "they do not question what's going on behind the scenes, they just follow it" - may or may not fit the surrounding paragraph, since I'm not totally clear what it means to "follow" a process anyway.
    – OJFord
    Jul 14 '15 at 22:43
  • -1 What is the evidence that "it doesn't work well" to use the term to describe a process's primary purpose or main reason for being/existing? "USB 3.0's impressive speed is its raison d' tre, but part of its beauty is its backward compatibility with USB 2.0." (PC World); "...with the Cold War now over for nearly 20 years, that policy has lost its primary raison d' tre ...." (Foreign Affairs). If a policy can have a raison d'tre, why can't a process? The OP's question was about an expression's "correctness" and whether it denotes what he wants it to, not a lecture on the conventional. Jul 15 '15 at 7:08
  • @ssav is this correct then "With this in mind, ABCs fundamental raison d'etre on being balanced, impartial and objective presentation on controversial issue."
    – 3kstc
    Jul 14 '16 at 0:59

Since raison d'être means the most important reason for something's existence, or, in the literal sense from French, "reason for being" it would be written as if you were saying "reason for being". For your sentence, it would look like this:

They do not question the raison d'être of the process, they just follow it.

Which would mean:

They do not question the [reason for being] of the process, they just follow it.

  • 1
    Excellent explanation. " ... [T]he process's raison d'etre . . . . " is another choice, and one that some may prefer, because in this case the main effect of choosing "something of something" over 's would be to place emphasis on the last element mentioned (process), which there seems no reason to do. Jul 15 '15 at 7:12
  • They do not question the reason for being of the process is not idiomatic English. They do not question why the process exists. être can be exist.
    – Lambie
    Jul 11 '18 at 21:56

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