Posted by: Jack Henry | August 31, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Deja Vu – Could you be the dream that I once knew?

When I hear the French term déjà vu, I think of a couple of things. The less disturbing of those thoughts is my high school French class, which was pretty rough because we had a Greek woman (Madame Touliatos) as a substitute teacher, and a Russian man (Monsieur G. G. Pachkovsky) as our regular teacher. Trying to find a French accent amidst the chaos was tough. The more disturbing thing that springs to mind is Dionne Warwick’s song (Déjà Vu) from 1979. I love R&B, but that song was just too sappy.

Déjà vu, in French, means “already seen.” The reason we use the French term, however, is that it doesn’t just stand for something that we’ve literally already seen, it envelops an entire feeling. In one of Grammar Girl’s guest articles, the author describes it perfectly:

Déjà vu describes the eerie sensation when something previously unknown to you—like a new neighborhood or a conversation that’s never happened before—suddenly feels like a memory of something you’ve already experienced.

Merriam-Webster defines déjà vu as "the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time" or "a feeling that one has seen or heard something before."

One of the questions the article asks is, “What’s the opposite of déjà vu?” My first thought was Alzheimer’s or brain damage. But there is an opposite. More from Grammar Girl:

Comedian George Carlin described something he called "vuja de"—"the strange feeling that, somehow, none of this has happened before." Carlin’s made-up word was just nonsense, a comedic reversal of the term "déjà vu." But does déjà vu have a real opposite?

It does, although the term is less well-known. It’s "jamais vu." "Jamais vu" is also French, and it means "never seen."

Although you might occasionally hear people refer to jamais vu in casual contexts, it’s actually a medical term. Doctors use it to describe not recognizing something familiar, like if you walk into your back yard and it feels like you’ve never been there before. You may have experienced a mild form of jamais vu called word blindness, which happens when a familiar word suddenly doesn’t look like a real word anymore. One study found that 60% of college students say they have experienced this kind of word blindness.

And now, the rest of your French lesson for today. Here are some other French terms similar to déjà vu, from that same article:

Presque vu: Translates from French to "almost seen." It’s a more obscure term that describes being on the edge of an epiphany, or that feeling like something is "on the tip of your tongue"—but you just can’t get there.

Déjà vécu: "Already lived." This is an intense but false feeling that you’ve already lived through the present situation. Déjà vu is a short-lived phenomenon, but déjà vécu is a false memory of a whole sequence of events, which can even lead to the conviction that one has lived past lives.

Déjà entendu: "Already heard." It’s a false feeling that something you’ve never heard before is familiar. It’s the audio-only version of déjà vu.

Déjà lu: "Already read." [KC – My French failed me. I guessed that this one was “already been in this bathroom before.”] If you’ve got the weird sense that the book you’re reading is something you’ve read before, even though it was just released, you’re experiencing déjà lu.

Déjà rêvé: "Already dreamed." Often confused with déjà vu, this is the sensation that something you’re experiencing right now in the waking world has already happened to you in a dream.

Mon Dieu! Who would’ve thought the French had so many terms for these false feelings and sensations? It sounds to me like they may have some issues with “le weed.”

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

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Editing: Symitar Documentation Services

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