Could have been in the Army; I’m such a “gunna”.
Presque Vu /pʁɛsk vy/ Noun
I learnt this word a very long time ago and then I forgot it. The definition is not being able to recall a word from memory, possibly combined with some partial recollection, with the added feeling of a very imminent epiphany.
Having once known this word but subsequently forgetting it became very annoying whenever someone, myself or whoever I was talking to, experienced that feeling of having a word at the forefront of one’s mind – knowing it’s there but also realising you’ll never remember it in time to be able to use it – and all you can say is “It’s on the tip of my tongue.. I’ve almost got it.. It starts with M…” and I’d think to myself (having forgotten the word but not that I knew it, once upon a time) “I know the word that describes that feeling exactly. It’s …” and there it was again in a vicious cycle of irony.
And thankfully, two years ago, that pain ended. But more than that, when I read the term “presque vue” every presque vu feeling I ever had trying to remember the phenomenon was fulfilled instantly. It was an epiphany party on the tip of my tongue and there was only one word on the guest list; presque vu.
Presque vu, somewhat obviously, comes from French. It doesn’t translate as “tip of the tongue” though, not by a long shot. Its literal translation is “almost seen” which I think far better describes the feeling than the linguagraphical [I just made that up] description of this very psychological phenomenon. It’s a feeling with a lot of depth; it can be great or small but always irksome and never welcome. It’s a feeling which has no bias in who it harasses; young, old, male, female, Asian, American or Uzbekistanian it really doesn’t matter, even people who sign report this phenomenon as “at the tip of their fingers”. The feeling itself was first described by William James though he never actually coined it as such. It was likely he wanted to and he knew exactly what he would call it but when he was writing Principles of Psychology he just couldn’t quite think of it.
They say that sorry is the hardest word. Really it’s no harder than any other word to say, but to mean it is a different thing all together.
Unfortunately when we mean it the most, when we’re absolutely sincere, that goes hand in hand with times we wrong those we care about the most.
What I would give to be hand in hand with the person I care about the most.
Gauche /ɡəʊʃ/ Adj.
You probably already know that left-handed people die seven years younger than their right handed counterparts. Did you also know they’re more likely to suffer from PTSD? That they’re more inhibited? And that even though they only make up roughly 10% of the population they account for 20% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia?
It sucks to be left-handed.
Our transport system, our writing system, our everyday implements are all anti-sinister. Sinister. That is seriously an accepted description of being left-handed, it comes from the Latin sinestra meaning left hand which was, over time, adopted into Middle-English to mean ‘unlucky’ and then that evolved into ‘evil’. But it also retained the whole left-handed side of the deal too. Which is why I’m glad I’m not left-handed. And it’s also why I find the word gauche so interesting.
Gauche (awkwardly trying to pronounce that in your head? Rhymes with the middle syllable of a-troc-ious) has two meanings. The first is left or, more specifically, left-handed. The second, and here’s the punchline, is ‘awkward’. Straight away this word kicks left-handed people in the teeth and as you delve deeper it gets worse. Nowadays the word is typically used to refer to awkwardness of a social nature; a simple faux-pas like asking your colleague how their wife is. Two weeks after they’ve been served with divorce papers. But it comes from French where before it meant socially inept it literally meant to veer or turn while you walked (gauchir) and before that its roots were in blatant trampling and clumsiness.
Its meaning is also in its pronunciation. English speaking tongues aren’t supposed to put those sounds together yet we’ve just plucked it straight from the French, no attempt to transliterate (read: bastardize) as we usually do with our borrowed words. At first glance I pronounced it ‘gorsh’. And by that I mean every time I read it I have to correct myself.
Gauche is the kind of word that is built solely on centuries of prejudice against those born just a little different from us. The left hand has been associated with the Devil since the days when the Devil was a whole range of mischievous spirits in Roman mythology just tearing shit up for fun. Like having two left feet makes you somehow a worse dancer than someone with two right feet. That is how ingrained in our culture the right-side-bias is.
And this word proves it beyond measure.
So I found a blue moleskin tucked away in my room with this, among some other things, written in it. It’s titled as a draft but I don’t believe that.
I say it to you
I say it so true
When you say it back
It feels like adieu
More sure of it now
Than first it was said
‘Cause I’m more at peace
With thoughts in my head
Three words that we know get bandied around
What people love most is just how they sound
But not when I say it
Perhaps nor with you
Perhaps I imagine
That sound of adieu
Tonight when you said it
You rid me of fears
Expressed it so well
You brought me to tears
It’s not just the drink
Nor the late hour
Tears brought to the brink
And here comes the shower.
Here’s some truth for you and it’ll bug me unless I say it, just knowing you’re probably pronouncing this page wrong.
The ‘v’ in Latin is pronounced with a labio-velar approximate (that’s a ‘w’ sound).
Of all the interesting and amazing words that I enjoy there seems to be a prevalence for words that start with ‘P’. This in mind, here’s numero duos.
Petrichor /ˈpɛtɹɪkɔ(ə)ɹ/ Noun.
The etymology of this word is fairly easy, as far as unusual words go. Petra- (or petros) is Greek for stone and –Ichor refers to the mythological ‘blood’, if you like, of the Ancient Greek gods. The word was first published by Australian scientists Bear and Thomas in 1964 and refers to the smell that is emitted after raining.
Wikipedia will tell you exactly how and why it happens but that’s not what interests me here. What I enjoy about this word is that the phenomenon is so often referred to but more often than not the word itself is never actually used. I grew up with my parents and grandparents always claiming they could “smell rain”. As it happens this smell can occur both before (from accumulating moisture in humid conditions) and after (from the washing of oils from the ground by precipitation) a heavy or long-awaited rain. And I always thought they were just making it up. Having a good guess at the weather and a joke at the same time. That is until I found this word about two years ago, hiding in the depths of English, apparently known to quite a few but kept as a diamond might be by a miser.
And it’s beautiful. The word seems to form on your lips and then move back into your mouth before turning around again to float forth into the word. I love the sound of it, the feel of it and, now that I can recognize it, I love the smell of it too. It’s like freshly cut grass but with more depth, or some crazy hippy mix of every nice smelling incense, ever. It smells exactly how you feel after a well deserved shower. It’s crisp and yet warm and inviting.
I feel the same about the word itself. Bear and Thomas were poetically brilliant in naming it. Petrichor. To combine that very real, very concrete (excuse the pun) petra with the mythological essence flowing through the veins of Olympians. It reminds me of the Roman concept of numens, the spiritual life-forces which they believed lived in all natural objects. Like somehow the rain has washed clean their hosts and nourished them and we can smell their essence emanating and growing.
Petrichor is no longer such a rarity in English. It made it to Reddit, Google will bring up a myriad of sites to define it for you, the more courageous individuals will even use it in everyday language. That, in and of itself, is great. It’s English evolving. Not in the sense that this word has just been coined, it hasn’t, but because it is becoming more common you could say it’s gaining more authority as a word. You might use poppysmic and have your friends think you’re making shit up but petrichor? That’s going to be ringing bells in everyone’s vocabulary very soon.