Friday, September 25, 2015

I can't find my mot juste!

And you’re thinking, “Mot juste? Does she mean au jus? Has she lost her mojo or her mind?” Well, hopefully, I haven’t yet lost either of those. Instead, I’ve found a new word.

When my daily email from A Word a Day (AWAD) came across the wire one morning, the word for that day was mot juste. Such a fancy word with a delightful pronunciation, mo ZHOOST.  Follow the link and click on the sound symbol to hear how it’s spoken. What does it mean? the right word.  Now imagine someone saying with an upper crust tone, “I just can’t seem to find the mot juste.” 

That’s my issue. These days, I seem increasingly unable to find the right word when I’m in the midst of a business phone call or a casual discussion over lunch.   Picture me raising my hand in the air as if trying to pull something out of the clouds.  When I’m on business calls, no one can see me do that, but trust me, I do it all too often. And whether or not they see me, they hear me groping for the right word, or pardonne moi, the mot juste.

Even worse is using the wrong word and then trying to backtrack to correct myself. Heaven forbid anyone would think this former English teacher unknowingly mixes up her words.  I wonder whether the AWAD team has a word for that faux pas. Do you, like me, always know the minute the wrong word has left your mouth and then frantically attempt to call it back? I certainly notice and cringe when anyone else misspeaks in a meeting, especially when it’s a senior executive hosting a conference call or webcast. 

Today I cringed when an exec said, “My team is working to ‘adopt’ to our new structure,” when what she meant was adapt. To her credit, though, she was able to stand on stage and host a lengthy meeting for hundreds of people without groping for the mot juste, as I probably would have. The mix-up that makes me crazy, though, is someone saying, “That’s a mute point,” when the mot juste is moot. That happens so frequently, I’m waiting for Webster’s to update the dictionary. 

I feel so much better now that I’ve ranted about my mot juste issue. And while writing this and googling how to spell pardonne moi, I stumbled across several French expressions I plan to adopt, not adapt.  I think speaking French may be the solution to my problem: break into French, bamboozle the audience and buy a minute or two to search further for the right word. For now, I’m adding excusez-moi and je suis désolé to my usual pardon. Anything more will have to wait until I someday take that French immersion course I’ve been dreaming of. Of course, now I’ll have to come up with a way to call those French words to mind when I need them. It may be easier to chant, “mot juste, mot juste,” as that word is now imprinted on my brain. 

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