French dramatist and duelist Cyrano de Bergerac was born on March 6, 1619. De Bergerac wrote some early science fiction in addition to philosophical works. Edmond Rostand immortalized him in 1867 in a play inspired by his life and his nose. The play was transformed into a 1990 film starring Gerard Depardieu. The real Cyrano was actually in the King’s Guards and the siege of Arras, just as in the play. He really did have a cousin named Roxanne, who lived in a convent and they may have been lovers. As in the play, he was injured by a falling beam that may have cost him his life one year later at the age of only 36.
Today’s expression would have spoken to Cyrano. Rire au nez de quelqu’un (rear owe nay duh kelkun) means “to laugh in someone’s nose.” We’d say to laugh in someone’s face. In the film, Cyrano takes lots of abuse for his magnificent proboscis, but his rapier wit as well as his brilliant skills with a rapier always made sure that he got the last laugh.