Noun > piece de resistance

This term is French for “main dish (of a meal).” You’ll see this literal meaning used in older texts, but it’s rarely used today.

Today, the piece de resistance of something is its best, most impressive part or item.

pee YES duh ruh zist ONTS

Part of speech:
Noun, the countable kind: “it’s the piece de resistance.”

Other forms:
Just the plural, for which you might want to keep the French accent marks and the italics: “pièces de résistance.”

Why “resistance”? Who’s resisting it? Does it “resist” in the face of our expectations or our awe? Is it irresistible?

Your guess is as good as mine. Lexicographers, too, are stumped. If you’re a native French speaker, can you weigh in?

For what it’s worth–very little–my guess is that some cross-contamination occurred long ago between the Latin roots that make up the word “resist” (meaning literally “stand firm against“) and “subsist” (“to stand firm,” or more literally “to stand under“), the result being a hazy border between the two ideas of drawing strength from something–like food–and refusing or rebuffing it. Again, just a guess.

How to use it:
Use this formal, flashy term to label the best, most spectacular part of a meal, a collection, a room, a building, a museum, an art gallery, etc.

If you prefer, you can italicize it to emphasize its Frenchness: piece de resistance. But many writers don’t.

And if you want to get figurative? You might refer to a certain victory as the piece de resistance of the athletic season, or to a certain place or sight or event as the piece de resistance of the tour or the vacation or the social movement, or to a certain joke or song as the piece de resistance of a comedian’s or a musician’s performance.

“Castro has slightly opened the economy, allowing private entrepreneurs to run businesses. Restaurants, beauty parlors, repair shops have sprung up all over Havana. He eliminated the hated travel permit that Cubans needed to leave the country. Cubans are now allowed to sell real estate and cars for the first time in nearly 50 years. And now, the piece de resistance: diplomatic relations with the United States.”
— Tracy Wilkinson, The Guardian, 21 December 2014

“There were Quarter Pounders, too, and Big Macs, and — perhaps the piece de resistance — a tray of silver bowls full of single-serve tubs of dipping sauce for chicken nuggets.”
— Maura Judkis, The Washington Post, 15 January 2019