We’re all familiar with the concept of ‘déjà vu.’ That’s the vague sensation that we’ve been somewhere before although we know otherwise. Or as described by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch 22, it’s just “…a momentary infinitesimal lag in the operation of two coactive sensory nerve centers that commonly functioned simultaneously.”
But ‘déjà vu’ doesn’t exhaust the gamut of unexplained sensations. Heller, himself, expanded the family to include ‘presque vu’ and ‘jamais vu.’
‘Presque vu’ — or almost seen; that’s the vague sense that what you saw was nothing but an apparition. And ‘jamais vu’ — or never seen; that disquieting, slightly crazed feeling that it was all just the result of a misfired synapse in your brain.
And that leads us to new members of the ‘vu’ family, the first being ‘toujours vu’ — always seen. That’s the clear, unvague and certain feeling that what you’re seeing you’ve seen many times before.
It’s the comfortable glow of familiarity you experience watching an episode of The Simpsons for the umpteenth time. Or the relaxed, homey sensation you get gazing at a McDonald’s menu board anywhere in the English-speaking world.
A close relative of ‘toujours vu’ is ‘souvent vu’ or often seen. That’s the not so pleasant feeling that’s summed up in the phrase “here we go again.” You’re likely to get zapped with this one just before the traffic jam starts or the computer printer starts jamming.
Then there’s ‘demi vu’ — half seen. It’s most commonly experienced with half-viewed movies and TV shows. You know the feeling; part way into a movie you have the strange sensation that you’ve seen it before. Well, you’re half right. And when you reach the part in the movie that you did see before, your feeling of ‘demi vu’ turns into that less than satisfying feeling of ‘tout vu’ — completely seen.
And you may have experienced ‘rarement vu’ — seldom seen. That’s the somewhat surprised reaction that comes when viewing the unexpected. It’s the slight shock we get when we see a politician telling the truth or a lawyer reducing his fees or a doctor admitting that she doesn’t know what’s wrong with you. Like a rare, vintage wine, this feeling is to be savored.
Then there’s the corollary to the ‘vu’ family — the ‘déjà’ family, a whole new series of sensations requiring French labels.
For example, there’s ‘déjà gôuté’ — or already tasted. That’s the richly satisfying, familiar feeling you experience when tasting fine food or wine you’ve never had before. It points to wealthy aristocratic roots in a previous lifetime and may also occur when getting into a Rolls Royce for the first time or when trying on that first cashmere jacket.
A not so pleasant member of the ‘déjà’ family is ‘déjà lu’ — already read. If you’ve restarted this paragraph several times, you know the sensation. You’ve read the last sentence three times now but you’re still not paying attention and can’t remember a damn thing about it.
Another equally disturbing family member is ‘déjà fait’ — already done. That’s the slightly obsessive-compulsive feeling you get walking out the front door wondering if you should check the front burner on the stove for the tenth time.
Then there’s ‘déjà fini’ — already finished. That’s the horrible feeling you get when you wake up on your day off and think you’re late for work. It’s a short-lived sensation but it usually produces enough adrenalin to squelch any thoughts of returning to sleep.
Like the ‘vu’ family, the ‘déjà’ family is an extended one. There are as many members as the imagination will allow: ‘déjà payé’ (already paid), ‘déjà bu’ (already drunk) and so on.
So now no new strange sensation need go unidentified or unnamed. Joseph Heller’s plaintive cry was “…neither ‘déjà vu’, ‘jamais vu’ nor ‘presque vu’ was elastic enough to cover it.”
But such anguish need occur no more. We now have the linguistic technology to fill such conceptual voids. The possibilities are endless. We have only to dream and then, with a little ‘déjà revé’, we can dream again.