Ah, le mot juste. Its literal translation is “the right word,” however I think of it as the “perfect” word (or words) expressed at the perfect moment often in response to an unpleasant situation.
You know that annoying sentiment when long after we’ve participated in such an exchange we think: “Oh, if only I had said________(fill in the blank), that would have been the consummate rejoinder.”
It seems to me that the trend is less toward seeking that rewarding mot juste and more toward the easy out with a stream of expletives. Now, don’t get me wrong I do think that on occasion a well-placed epithet can be efficient as well as supremely satisfying (though perhaps fleetingly). But, like everything, when overused it becomes not only ridiculous, but also ineffectual.
I’m told that in French it’s far better to throw in a rare, though nicely positioned, “merde” than the déclassé “mince” judged as being ordinaire. No one wants to be considered “ordinary” over here. . .
It’s interesting that the expression, “Pardon my French,” is used to excuse one’s language when, in my experience, I hear very little swearing in France and it seems to be pretty much non existent on television, unless I’ve missed something.
I am really, really, really bored with the constant use of that special word that functions as verb, adjective, and adverb. Even its once reliable shock effect no longer exists. Now it’s simply tiresome and, intellectually speaking, just plain lazy. It’s mind numbing and blunts the message. What’s the point?
For some reason lately, maybe it’s because I’ve been so immersed in my new book, which alongside the chapters on beauty and style, there are others examining politesse, civility, and everyday elegance. I suspect that’s why I’ve been thinking about les mots juste and civilized behavior in general.
Now I’m musing: Is this an age thing? I’m wondering if my latest obsession (not to be hyperbolic) is simply an extension of my previous post about family heirlooms: nobody cares. Then I argue back to myself, explaining (in my head), that I love the idea of evolutionary language with new words and expressions, pointing out — to confirm my position — that imprecations can be the devolution of language.
Then I decided I want to be fair, so I did a little superficial research on the subject and discovered that there are counter arguments to my position. Take this piece in New York magazine for example: “If You Want to Bond With Someone, Swear at Them“.
In the case set forth in the promotion material for the book featured above we’re told that the author “Weaves together linguistic and psychological analyses of why we swear – for emotional release, as a way to promote group solidarity, or to create intimate relationships.” And further we, as readers, will be challenged “to re-consider the way [we] think about swearing.”
(For a few fleeting seconds I contemplated adding reality TV and the devolution of popular culture into this rant and then I realized you might think “enough already”.)
Do tell me if I’m turning into a curmudgeon.
Ed. Note: Coming soon(!): Posts on style and beauty. Can you still your beating heart?