Lamenting the loss of déjà vu

My local newspaper carried this dispiriting item today:

“For Kirsten Tomlinson, so much of the 2012 prep softball season must have felt like deja vu. Poynette’s senior pitcher helped the Pumas repeat as Northern Capitol Conference champions.”

I’m not unhappy for Ms. Tomlinson, who I’m sure deserves the honor. I’m unhappy for the loss of a sublimely useful term and the concept behind it.

You see, Ms. Tomlinson’s second consecutive award did not create “the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.”

No, the young athlete’s worthy achievement was a repeat, a second memorable occurrence. In other words, it was not déjà vu at all.

“Déjà vu” is one of those rare French imports (from the early 1900s) that we in the U.S. have accepted enthusiastically. 1960s-era Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is widely given credit for declaring that teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris’s repeated feat of hitting back-to-back home runs was a case of “déjà vu all over again”.

Since then, we’ve steadily been losing our original sense of déjà vu.

I’m not a usage nanny (although I do admit to some strong prejudices). In this case, however, I find it sad that, through verbal sloppiness, we seem to be throwing away a perfectly good term. One whose uniqueness is acknowledgment of an odd existential pleasure.

So if “déjà vu” is going to be a synonym for “been there, seen that,” what are we going to call that delightful shiver of false recognition that comes from, say, walking into a strange room and feeling that, by means of some impossible cosmic twist, we’re returning to a place we once knew well?

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