Sally M (sallymn) wrote in 1word1day,
Sally M

Sunday Word: Mot juste

mot juste [moh zhyst]
The exact, appropriate word, the exactly right word or phrasing


The interpreter paused, choosing le mot juste before speaking. (Mikkael A Sekeres, The Universal Language of Caring, The New York Times, Jan 2020)

Translating this book is not really about finding le mot juste because Döblin, who despised Thomas Mann’s fussy aestheticism, often seems little interested in the exercise himself. (Amanda DeMarco, 'Berlin Alexanderplatz' Review: A Low-Life for the Ages , The Wall Street Journal, 2020)

As Levitin writes in his commentary, "Flaubert was wrong when he spoke of 'le mot juste! The very nature of reality and language precludes such a thing. As all translators realize, we search for le mot juste, knowing we must settle for something that merely approaches it (Martha Collins & Kevin Prufer, Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries)

The mot juste is an expression which readers would like to buy of writers who use it, as one buys one's neighbour's bantam cock for the sake of hearing its voice no more. (Henry Fowler)


English was apparently unable to come up with its own mot juste to refer to a word or phrase that expresses exactly what the writer or speaker is trying to say and so borrowed the French term instead. The borrowing was still very new when George Paston (pen name of Emily Morse Symonds) described a character's wordsmithery in her 1899 novel A Writer's Life thusly: "She could launch her sentences into the air, knowing that they would fall upon their feet like cats, her brain was almost painlessly delivered of le mot juste…." As English speakers became more familiar with the term they increasingly gave it the English article "the" instead of the French le. (Merriam-Webster)

'a brief and forcible or witty saying,' 1813; earlier 'a motto' (1580s, a sense now obsolete), from French mot (12c.) 'remark, short speech,' literally 'word,' cognate of Italian motto, from Medieval Latin muttum 'a word,' from Latin mutum 'a grunt, a murmur' (see mutter). Also compare bon mot. Mot juste (1912) is French, literally 'exact word,' the precisely appropriate expression in some situation. (Online Etymological Dictionary)

Tags: french, m, noun, phrase, wordsmith: sallymn

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