Presque Vu

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.

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