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We Need More Precise Words

Liam Larson

There exists a phrase, ‘Le Mot Juste’, which refers to the idea that there is always a perfect word to describe whatever you are trying to say. Hemingway was a rigid believer in Le Mot Juste, which is why he wrote things like “The grass was green and wet and the dirt was brown and there were mountains that were tall and white and pretty to look at.” To draw some comparisons between Hemmingway and myself, which I do often, I too try to write with Le Mot Juste in mind. However, I believe that Le Mot Juste often does not exist, because the English language is severely lacking in ‘precise words’ to describe everyday occurrences. 


Before providing a few examples of precise words I’d like to see added to the Oxford, perhaps a bit more context on what I mean by ‘precise words’ would be helpful. The Guiness World Record for the ‘most precise word’ is Mamihlapinatapai. It is derived from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego. It means “a look that without words is shared by two people who want to initiate something, but that neither will start”. This is a phenomenon I’ve experienced many times and the fact that there exists a word to characterize it is wonderful. I’ve been waiting for just over two years to wedge it into a conversation. 


There are a myriad of phenomena, like mamihlapinatapai, that warrant more precise words than currently exist. Take for example the common situation in which you eat so much food that you can barely open your eyes- you are so stuffed that you are basically intoxicated, drunk from overconsumption. Most people would describe this as a ‘food coma’. Really? A food coma? That’s the best we can come up with? There needs to be a singular word, one that can be modified as an adjective or a verb, to describe this. 


That is just one example off the top of my head- it was the first thing that came to mind…which is another great example: a word to describe the first thing that pops into your mind when prompted to think about something. There are countless other everyday occurrences-many of them sexual (yes, meaning I have sex everyday)- that warrant the same type of scrutiny. 


In closing, I think that the English language is severely lacking in words that describe very specific occurrences. Any time you are forced to combine two distinct words to describe something, like ‘food’ and ‘coma’ or ‘premature’ and ‘ejaculation’, it should be a stark reminder of our linguistic failings as a society. We have a responsibility to all those who speak our language- past, present, and future- to add to, refine, and improve the language we use to communicate. 


If you enjoyed today’s moot, consider donating to Save the Children, Liam’s charity of choice.

*For each moot, we generate a cover image using  DALL·E, an AI art platform that generates images using natural language processing. This image on the right was generated using the title, 'We Need More Precise Words' in the style of Edward Hopper, the Liam's artist of choice.*

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DALL·E 2022-10-04 19.29.15 - Man reading a dictionary in a library by edward hopper.png

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