That Feeling You Can Only Say in French

English is such a garbled language. It’s a Frankenstein monster, taking bits and pieces of other languages and stitching it all together. Sometimes things get lost in translation. And some words don’t make the leap at all.

I've always been fascinated by foreign languages. At how similar they are to one another, and sometimes how starkly different. Doubtless there are non-English speakers who consider it to be strange and exotic, but to me its very mundane. I think English could be benefited by adopting some things from other languages.

Take the phrase déjà vu for instance. Seems like a pretty useful phrase to have, right? Putting down complex feelings and emotions into words; that’s what language is all about. But there’s no English word for that particular phrase. We had to steal it from the French. How weird is it to only be able to say how you feel in a different language?

 The truth is, there are so many feelings and experiences we as human beings have, but fail to have any words for in English. Has our common language failed us? Do these words just not translate well? It only gets weirder the harder you investigate; the term déjà vu is only one of the tamest. There are words out there in the abyss of the spoken word that you never imagined, ones that are so weirdly specific you could swear that it was a joke. Yet you can only wonder why no English professors ever thought to include them in Webster’s Dictionary.

Whoa, I got off topic there. Getting back to déjà vu. Once you begin to investigate the word, you realize that it’s only one brother to a small family of French phrases meaning similar things. Presque vu, for example, is the sensation you feel when you’re on the brink of an epiphany (something just on the tip of your tongue). Useful, right? I’m gonna use that someday.

 Another is jamais vu, the distinct opposite of déjà vu. Jamais vu is the feeling one gets when it feels as if a situation is brand new, even if rationally one knows he/she has been in the situation before. It’s like if you say the word "hopscotch" over and over and over again, until it seems like hopscotch is some strange made-up word you’ve never heard of. Trippy stuff, right there.

 And we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s so much more to explore. A whole new world of words and phrases awaits, just waiting to be discovered.


Jacob Rennick 

Jacob Rennick was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1993. He has lived in several cities during his life, and made the move to Ottawa in the summer of 2012, where he’s currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College. He lives with several roommates and his two cats, Virgil and Maximus. He has written several short stories and is working on a longer piece called Cleaning House.