Le Mot Juste | Hackie | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Le Mot Juste 

Those loquacious French have an expression for the perfect, the most precise word in a given context:  le mot juste. Say what you will about our friends from France, but they excel in the linguistic arts. (Also, they're not shabby when it comes to cooking, perfumery, wine and love-making.)

In the last "Hackie" column, I found what I felt was le mot juste for the title. The problem was that the perfect word is sometimes an unusual word, one that few people retain as a part of their working vocabulary. So, how perfect is it if few folks will know what it means?

I have had a running conversation with my Seven Days editors on this very subject. Essentially, my esteemed editors think that rare words - those that few readers will know - should be avoided as story-stoppers. Why jar the reader out of the flow of the narrative?

I get this point, but feel that a writer has an obligation to introduce their readers to new and tasty words and thusly expand their vocabularies. I read the New Yorker magazine weekly and always come across words with which I'm not familiar. I write them down on the spot. When I later check my dictionary, I go, "Ah-ha - that's a nice word."

So, this story was about a baby born on Leap Year's Day, i.e., February 29th. There is a terrific word for such a baby: a leapling. To me, it evokes the word, "yearling," and just love the sound of it. Therefore, with my editors' approval, we did use that for the title.

As a coda, when the story was posted on the paper's website - www.sevendaysvt.com - it was transposed incorrectly as "The Leaping!"

So, look before you leap.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Bio:
Jernigan Pontiac was a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column appeared in Seven Days 2000-20. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.

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