Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for November 18, 2019 is:
mot juste • moh-ZHEWST • noun
: the exactly right word or phrasing
“At best, thesauruses are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste. Your destination is the dictionary.” — John McPhee, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2013
“My most potent talisman is the late Ted Hughes’ impressive writing lectern … which I bought last year at auction. I used to fish with him, and I imagine he would have been amused to see me stand here at it, looking out over my Perthshire loch, biting a ballpoint and straining for the mot juste.” — David Profumo, The Daily Telegraph (London), 8 June 2019
Did you know?
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 (the 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.