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One thing I like about the history of words is that they change their intensity over time. So 'vehementer' in Latin is far less intense than 'vehemently' in English. Whereas 'difficilis' in Latin is far more intense than 'difficult' in English.

So how about 'charme' in French versus 'charm' in English? I was talking about a certain amazing French actress and my French language partner said "Elle a du charme," and I'm thinking, huh, what? She has a lot more than just 'charm', she's simply amazing. To me that was like saying Usain Bolt can run the 100m dash in 11 seconds. Yea, if you can run the 100m dash in 9.8 seconds (or whatever the exact number is) you can also run it in 11 seconds, but you're supposed to state the higher number or the more rare property. So, yea, if someone is amazing they also have 'charm', but you state the more positive property.

So what do you think: is 'charme' an exact translation of 'charm'?

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    It's true that "charm, charming" in English is pretty much a dimunitive by now, something like "cute". Mainly to be used of children or people who aren't serious contenders for whatever is contended. "Isn't she charming?" i.e., "Doesn't she produce a vaguely pleasant impression while not being able to be taken seriously?" Unless in a more old-fashioned context.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 7, 2023 at 11:46
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    "Charm" has several meanings/nuances both in French and in English. When I read one of the entries for "charm" in the OED: "Any quality, attribute, trait, feature, etc., which exerts a fascinating or attractive influence, exciting love or admiration" I find it's very close to: Qualité de grâce, de beauté, de rêve, de noblesse qui a pouvoir de plaire extrêmement given in the TLF (B2). What definition one might choose could depend on one's own feeling towards the person/object of the attraction.
    – None
    Sep 7, 2023 at 12:50

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I think your language partner wanted to express exactly what you understood.

Elle a du charme

~ Elle a un certain charme

~ Elle a [une certaine quantité de] charme

are positive but not superlative. In contrast,

Elle a un charme fou / dingue / de ouf

depending on the speaker's age, might reflect what you thought of the actress.

Of course, there's body language too. Saying elle a du charme with a smile and raised eyebrow will make it more intense than a straight face and a shrug.

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